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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Hello everyone and happy March Madness to ya. Who are you picking to cut down the nets this year? I’ve got UNC over Duke, a prediction I’m 100% sure will be incredibly wrong. But for now, my bracket – like yours – is perfect. (Update: nevermind, Louisville sucks). As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever’s on your mind.

To your questions!

Brian Tollini: Is there a specific aspect to the way the Steelers build a roster in which you feel is lacking compared to other teams? i.e. FA, draft srategy, contracts, trades, etc.

Alex: Hmm, no, nothing comes to mind immediately. There are things they do differently, of course. More conservative in free agency overall, smaller signing bonuses and less “true” guarantees in contracts, as well litigated throughout the Bell process, stuff like that. Maybe too much input on the “SPARQ” athletes and underclassmen in the first round, making those guys play early when they’re really not ready, but that’s a fine line to walk.

Maybe with some of their injury evaluations? Misses there. Ladarius Green’s concussion history, Boykin with the bad hip, Burnett’s history. How they handled some guys like Gilbert. Those are tough to judge from our outside view and something even further from our knowledge, talking about medical and not football, but some obvious problems there.

srdan: Both are on the board at 20. Burns and Bush….who ya got? Why?

Alex: Bush. Bigger position of need and to be honest, I didn’t hop onto the Burns hype train like others. I see the potential, I see the traits, and he’s a very easy mover who can fit in this system, no doubt, but I see a lack of strength and him struggle against some top talent. Check that Florida game vs Jawaan Taylor. Did nothing.

804Stiller: Do you see us having a good year this season or do you think we are going in the wrong direction? Personally, I think our line will be good again and we are focusing on getting back to high level defense. Maybe, I’m crazy but you don’t need an elite WR or RB to win at a high level and I think we will be fine at those positions.

Alex: I’ll wait for my predictions/projections until the season starts. Still have the rest of fee agency and the entire draft to go. Obviously, losing Brown is a monumental loss that has the offense taking a couple steps backward, no matter who or how many players they replace him with. No getting around that. And the division is tougher with Cleveland being a serious threat (though they still have to make it all work with a first-time head coach). But the Steelers are still going to be in the race, in the mix for the AFC North crown. They’re not going 4-12.

Rene Gonzalez: Hi Alex!
There seems to be a lot of coverage about the Steelers adressing ILB in round 1, but what about options like Wilson, Cashman or even Hanks in later rounds? How do you feel about those guys?

Alex: All names worth mentioning, Rene. Merit in all of them, though Wilson is probably someone you’re taking at 20 or you’re not getting him at all. I wonder what the team’s approach will be. Colbert has said similar things about this ILB class as he did last year and once they missed out on the top three, they just passed on the entire group. Signing Barron to play ILB gives them that flexibility to punt on the group, at least in theory, if they can’t find that do-it-all guy (and it’s really hard).

The Tony: The Steelers are moderately thin at WR and TE. Which position would you rather draft in the first two rounds? If any injury happens to JuJu, I don’t see the drop off in positional production being as great as an injury to McDonald.

Alex: Still receiver. Moncrief is the stop gap, not the replacement. And this is a base 11 personnel team. Three receivers on the field. More marquee position for how this offense functions. You want a good #2 behind Vance for when you go 12, they did play almost equal snaps last year, worth pointing that out, but I’m ok with that position being a little weaker and a little more specialized. You need more top-level talent at WR than you do at TE. Guys like JuJu/Switzer/Eli can work the middle of the field in a scenario where Vance isn’t available and your #2 isn’t the most attractive asset.

You might be right the drop off wouldn’t be as great in terms of pure numbers but in terms of value to the offense, losing JuJu is greater than McDonald.

CP72: 

Alex,
We’re getting pretty far along in the draft process. Give me one prospect you are higher on than most and one you’re lower on than most.

Mine:
Higher- Ben Burr-Kirven
Lower- Mack Wilson

Alex: Hmm, I’d have to kick that around for awhile. I’d say some of the names I mentioned before I like a lot. Amani Hooker, Deebo Samuel, Dalton Risner is a tackle who can plug and play for ten years. Sean Bunting is pretty good, too.

Guys I’m lower on? I mentioned Burns earlier. Lower on someone like Parris Campbell, who I think is pretty raw. And anyone who thinks Tre Lamar should be taken in the first five rounds.

BurghBoy412: Seeing how much Ben and the Organization has been under attack. Do you buy into the narrative that all this negative publicity could bring this team closer together and galvanize their efforts next season?

Alex: Yeah, I actually think it does. We know this team functions best as the underdog or at least, with that mentality. So I can see some guys using that as motivation. Does that magically make this team better, create more turnovers, and replace AB? Nope. But I think it helps with the team unity aspect. The idea it’s us vs them, even when sometimes it isn’t.

Hardy Steeler: Since it’s started, you can’t steal my picks which is good, because I promise I’d steer you in the wrong direction. Keep in mind I watched like, three college games all year long.

Final Four: Duke, Michigan, Tennessee, UNC

Championship: UNC over Duke

CP72: I‘m going to cheat and do one more….
I know we all want to cut Burnett. Have we really replaced him? Barron is more of a Mack. I expect them to look for this type of guy in the draft.

Alex: Agreed and that’s why I think Burnett is still on the roster. So short answer is no, I don’t think they have. Barron offers versatility and can do some stuff for you in sub, let’s say you can’t get Bush and Barron picks up the defense, he could be the lone ILB in dime or 3-3-5, but yeah, I think you’re looking for someone like Rapp/Hooker/CGJ in the draft.

falconsaftey43: Any WRs you would actually consider at 20?

Alex: Hakeem Butler would probably be the one name I’d circle. I’m open to taking a receiver in the first though, no question.

@why_cliff: hey AK, For the mailbag, it looks more and more likely neither Devin will be available at 20. It appears Devin White could go top 5 (Bucs I feel). If Devin Bush makes it past Detroit at #8 would you trade up to 9 knowing Cin, GB, Den & Bal need an ILB?

Alex: That’s tough to say because it all depends on the cost. We know going from 20 to nine is going to Cost. A. Lot. 500 point difference in value. That means sending #52 and even then, you have more than a hundred point difference. So a hypothetical trade could be…

Get: #9
Send: #20, #52, #83

So now you go from four picks in the top 83 to two in the top 121. Is that worth it? Potentially. But just understand the cost of how much it’ll take to pull off such an aggressive move.

HappyInCharge: 

Hey Alex!

Worst case scenario, neither Devin is available. Who do you say is in Round 2 (or later) who could be 2019’s draft version of Darius Leonard? It could be no one, but figured their may be a guy scouts say could turn out to be a gem if developed right.

Alex: Whew, that’s tough. Blake Chasman got a lot of love post-Combine. And you’ll hear a lot of about David Long from West Virginia I think, too. But it’s hard to try to project a gem like what Leonard turned out to be.

NickSteelerFan: If you had to choose one position to double dip on, who would it be? And who would you take from that position in rounds 1/2 and 5/6?

Alex: That’s hard to say. I think you normally double-dip wherever the talent takes you. A position that’s deeper than the others and you just don’t want to pass on the player. I don’t think you go into most drafts with the intent of taking two guys at one spot, unless your starter/depth is truly terrible.

So inside linebacker is a nice idea but is the talent there to support it? Maybe, maybe not. Receiver is deep and I think you need to add as much competition as you can to replace Brown. Elevate everyone in that room. Bring out the best in guys. That’s your best way to try and replace what he brought. Corner also has some options. Maybe safety if you consider dime and backup safety to be one in the same. But really, it just depends on trade and the board.

DirtDawg1964: 

Can I ask two questions? If you only like one of them, answer just one. If you like neither, pretend you like one. 😉

Q. 1. What do you think is the most overlooked position group on the Steelers, in terms of need, as everyone focuses on ILB, DB and WR?

Q. 2. You get to do the 2013 draft over again. The can still take Bell at 48, or you can take any player drafted after him, all the way up to Markus Wheaton at 78. Would you take a different player? If so, who?

Alex: Ha, I’ll answer both. That’s a good question to the first one. I don’t know if tight end can be overlooked but certainly a big hole was left by Jesse and the value and consistency he brought. That’s tough to replace in a rookie tight end. Position takes time to adjust too and the level of trust simply won’t be there for awhile, just as James had to earn it.

Defensive line too. Looking for another pass rusher, better depth. Don’t rule that out in the mid-rounds, just as the team showed foresight in taking Okorafor, even if the move was a head-scratcher in the moment. And to a lesser degree, running back, because I think Jaylen Samuels has been a bit overvalued by the team. He’ll open the year as the #2 but I do want a #3 to keep pushing him and for obvious depth purposes. One more. True safety depth. Think about what is behind Davis and Edmunds. Not, uh, much. Dangerfield and that’s it.

Second question is tough. Comes down to Bell vs Travis Kelce vs Tyrann Mathieu. Can make a case for all three of them. I think I’d go Kelce though by a nose.

Chad Weiss: Hi Alex ,this team seems loaded at the slot but weak at X and Z, if I understand correctly ? Why is it the steelers don’t move juju to the X,let Eli and Switz battle for the slot and Washington and Moncrief battle at the Z?
The way I am understanding it Moncrief gonna be the X,Juju has slot locked up over Eli and Switz and Washington don’t really even have competition at the Z as of right now?

Alex: Could you do that? In theory, yes. But you have to understand the X and Z are two different positions with two different skillsets. The X receiver is playing in more space, on the island, against more press and bracket coverage. And not an area I think JuJu works at his best. He was just learning how to play outside, see time at the Z, and I want to keep him there and in the slot.

Washington has some push. In two receiver sets, you could still see Moncrief as the X and JuJu as the Z. Or in 11 personnel, JuJu can play the Z, Eli/Switzer slot, Moncrief the X. Or the rookie they draft could do it. So there’s competition there as well.

Tom White: Ok Alex, full disclosure I haven’t watched Mack Wilson tape but have watched some Bush games and am on record as saying I don’t think Bush is worth trading up for. With that being said, just a cursory glance at the stats shows 6 career INT’s for Wilson and 1 for Bush. Knowing how much the team needs splash, what have you seen that makes you like Bush more than Wilson on tape? I even heard Dave question where the splash was from Wilson on tape but the numbers show he has done that. Knowing you guys put the time into the tape I am just curious what the story is here.

Alex: It’s a valid question, Tom. I think scheme has to be considered to some degree. Some of the Michigan guys have those production questions. Rashan Gary has them. And Michigan DC Don Brown noted that the scheme didn’t let him have the freedom to make as many plays as he was capable of.

I think Bush was used more of a blitzer, that’s why he has 10 sacks the last two years, that may have limited his interception numbers. Wilson, meanwhile, played pretty exclusively to dime and passing downs two years ago. So more dropping into coverage, more chances for picks. And Alabama arguably had stronger talent, a better d-line (Michigan’s was good still, don’t get me wrong), and led in more games. So teams throw more, under more pressure, and that creates more chances.

And just keep in mind that interceptions can be a little “fluky” and random. Ryan Shazier had one career INT at Ohio State. But we knew the traits he had and how he could make more plays at the next level.

Spencer Krick: 

Hey Alex!

Is there a particular pro day that you think will be the most revealing? I’d keep an eye on who they send to Iowa.

Alex: I try not to get too caught up in the expectation game. Wherever they go, they go. If it’s a place where they’re not at at all, then yeah, that’s telling. But unless we’re talking about first round guys, and you’re right, that could be the case with Iowa and Fant/Hockenson, then it’s hard to gauge. Was there a conflict in schedule? Something back in Pittsburgh to take care of? Who knows. When the Pro Day circuit ends, then I’ll go back and kinda chart out what stuck out to me. Places they did/didn’t go.


I gotta duck out everyone. Will try to circle back to some of the ones I haven’t answered later. Thanks for sending in your questions!

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