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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Hey everyone, welcome back to the Thursday mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever’s on your mind. Busy week ahead with the new league year less than seven days away. And the Steelers have a bunch of moves to make before then.

To your questions!

Xclewsive: Do you think the recent pandemic will affect the draft?

Alex: I think it’s possible. Probably more likely than not. Does that mean the draft will be cancelled? At this point I can’t rule it out but I doubt it. But in its current form, it’s a huge public gathering. And I can’t see the NFL risking the health and safety of the players/fans/community for it.

The good news is the NFL has a little bit of time to work with here. So they can evaluate things in say, two weeks, and see where the whole situation is.

The bigger question is how much will this effect the new league year plans. I know they’ve said it’s staying the same, still the 18th, but we see how quickly things change. And if NFL teams are basically shutting down, it’s hard to have a functioning league. They certainly can push things back even two weeks and really nothing be affected, especially if Pro Days aren’t happening.

The Tony: Alex, do you think with leagues suspending games and people taking every precaution with the Coronavirus, in what capacity will the draft be held? Do you think the draft will still happen just without an audience? Will it still be televised? I love draft weekend, so it’s definitely worrisome.

Alex: Basically the same answer I just gave (and it’s an important question to ask). I think it will still occur but not in its current form. It may sorta be like the MLB draft, where teams basically just call in and submit their pick. Still televised and analyzed but won’t bring the fanfare it usually does.

Lblissett: What do you think the chances are the Steelers draft a safety at 49? There are a number of guys who check all the speed, range, and even size boxes they seem to covet and others that match most of it.

Alex: It’s possible. Everything is on the table especially knowing some positions of need, like TE and iOL, aren’t rife with talent. Some of those SPARQY dudes are small schoolers like Dugger and Chinn so that bucks some history for Pittsburgh there. And if they can’t be at a Pro Day/bring those guys in, then it’s an even bigger leap of faith. They may stick with the Power 5 and trust the tape there.

K’Von Wallace from Clemson is one name who fits well who can be had with #102 or maybe a 4th round pick.

knoxly: Hey Alex, Besides Mims who are some other WRs in play at 49?

Alex: Plenty of options. I’m not sure Mims will even fall that far. TCU’s Jalen Reagor is probably near the top of the list. There’s also KJ Hamler from Penn State though he’s on the small side. Michael Pittman Jr. fits as a JuJu 2.0. I’ve talked about Van Jefferson from Florida, though he’s probably not in talks for #49. Throw guys like Devin Duvernay into that 3rd/4th round group as well.

CP72: Alex,
You’ve been evaluating players for a few years now. Has there been a player or players you downgraded or elavated due to athletic testing and eventually regretted it? The cliche this time of year is trust the tape, but athletic testing obviously matters to Kevin Colbert and company.

Alex: I’m not sure. I bet I have. I’d have to think about all the past drafts. I regretted ignoring Jarvis Jones’ terrible testing and focused on his production in the SEC. I wrestled with that but ended up leaning on the latter to think he could be a good NFL pro. And that was clearly a mistake.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
Do you think there’s a real chance of losing both Foster and Finney? I really hope we can keep Finney.

Alex: Absolutely. Foster just seems like a cap casualty and all indications are the team is going to have to cut ties. And Fineny? He’ll cost even more than what Foster is making and they just don’t have the money for it. Even if a CBA gets passed, I’m not sure how they’re going to make it fit, especially if they want to keep McDonald/Barron as has been reported. And if that’s what they do, then I don’t know how they plan on tendering guys like Hilton/Banner. The Steelers’ roster is about to get really crazy and could look a lot different.

David Rudin: 

Hey Alex,

You seem to know a lot about detailed aspects of various positions. What is your background in football?

Alex: Really nothing special. Never played, unless YMCA flag football counts (narrator: it doesn’t). Just did a lot of reading, studying, learning, and since working for Steelers Depot, have been able to devote my time to dive into the games like never before. Just being able to study it for a living is helpful enough.

DropTheHammer: 

Hi Alex:

You’ve been pretty open about NOT wanting a Running Back with pick #49, but it seems very likely that 2-3 of the most elite RB’s will be there for the taking. How big an impact on the team would happen if the F.O. obtained a star prospect like Dobbins, CEH, Taylor, Swift, or Akers? How big an impact if Conner gets hurt again and misses 8 games and is limited for the postseason?

Alex: I don’t know how likely it is. And if it fits what the Steelers like. I don’t want to say they’re 100% committed to big, burly backs but all they’ve done for the last 5-6 years is draft guys 220+ pounds plus. Do they go in a different direction and take someone a little smaller like Dobbins or Akers? Taylor fits and I can see him on their radar for sure.

Adding a RB would help if Conner went down. I could say the same for a lot of the other positions we’re talking about. Interior offensive line, tight end, safety, I think depth is untested and uneasy in plenty of spots. And I see RB as more replaceable/fungible – to steal Dave’s word – than say, safety.

Ryan Fazi: 

Alex,

Is there a position this year when looking at value you see yourself leaning towards a day 3 player over a day 2 player ?Example: You’d rather the Steelers select Devin Duvernay at 135 than have them take Denzel Mims at 49 ?

Alex: I try not to think about it in those terms. I think when you only have six picks, when you’re waiting to #49, when you have only two in the top 102 selections, you’re just trying to maximize talent. And trying to play this value game…I get it. I think we all do it to a degree, subconsciously or not. But you just want talent who can come in and help you in the short-term, this year and next, because that’s your Super Bowl window. So that’s where my focus is at.

I have said though if you want a good TE with long-term, starting prospects, you will need to get one at 49 or 102. After that, the depth simply isn’t there. But that doesn’t mean you absolutely *have* to take one. It just depends on the board.

ImMikeD: Any thoughts on possibly extending Nelson to clear up cap space?

Alex: Unless a new CBA is passed, it’s not saving you much. Less than a million, per Dave Bryan’s figures.

If the CBA does get passed? Then maybe. I’m not quite sure what the savings would bump up to. But at that point, you can re-do Ben’s deal, create nearly $10 million, have flexibility in other multi-year deals without the 30% rule hindering the organization, and you probably don’t need to restructure other contracts.

HinesWardFan: Alex, is TE really a position of need? I’d rather see any combination of Conner, Nix, DJ and The Hulk on the field than any TE we might end up with on the roster. If BPA is a TE, I’m fine with grabbing him, but I don’t see the need to overspend on any currently on the roster, or to reach in the draft.

Alex: I see it as one, most definitely. No, I’m not asking to overspend or to reach. I don’t think anyone ever advocates for that. But there are short-term and long-term issues. Really more of the latter. Who is the TE of the future? Who is even going to be on the roster for 2021? I have no idea.

Tight end isn’t like running back. With a RB, you can plug ‘n play. That’s why I’m open to drafting one next year, assuming Conner is going to hit free agency. Much more replaceable and much quicker to do so. Tight ends, coming from the college game where they aren’t attached, don’t block, etc, they need at least a year to grow. You can’t wait until next year and then need one. That’s when you reach. Draft one now, develop him for a year, and you’ll feel a lot better about your outlook come 2021. You’ll have some options and that’s critical.

Like I’ve harped on before, this team hasn’t made a serious investment in the position since Mike Tomlin’s first year. That’s crazy for a team whose whole MO is building through the draft. They’ve tried trades, free agent signings, cobbling together the group in a near-constant state of flux and it generally hasn’t worked out well for them. Time to get back to basics.

If they don’t/can’t draft a TE because the opportunity isn’t there, so be it. But you gotta take a long look at it.

Last thing I’d say is no, this is a relatively weak class. But let’s pretend we were looking at 2019’s crop, a pretty good one with tons of talent at the top. Would it matter if there was a TJ Hockenson or Noah Fant, two guys who went in the top 20? They wouldn’t be in play for Pittsburgh at #49. So we’d be talking about 2nd or 3rd round options and discussing their flaws and worth and value anyway. So this year is really no different.

HinesWardFan: Is Finney good enough in pass pro to promote to starter? He was behind Foster and Feiler vs the Rams pass rush.

Alex: He’s good enough to start in this league, especially given the scarcity of even halfway decent offensive line talent. But that’s sorta the point. The fact he could start for half the league means he’s not going to be cheap which means the Steelers will struggle to afford him and there’s no reason for Finney to take a backup-level contract in Pittsburgh. Test the market. Someone is going to pay him more and give him a clearer, better opportunity.

The Steelers have the ability to mask the problem by kicking Feiler to LG and Okorafor/Banner (assuming he gets tendered?) fight it out at RT. I don’t think their goal was to have Okorafor sit on the bench forever anyway. Third year guy, time for him to sink or swim.

Spencer Krick: 

Hey Alex,

Is there a position of need that is flying under the radar right now?

Alex: I talk about it all the time but safety depth. There’s nothing there. Minkah or Edmunds go down Week 2, what does this team do? Turn to Marcus Allen? Jordan Dangerfield (set to be a FA, by the way)? There really isn’t a plan. So they have to infuse it with some talent. Sign a minimum free agent like Deon Bush and draft one. Now you have some options, some competition, and a little less concern.

pghomer: In a vacuum.
Would you rather have Reagor wr At #49 or Trautman?
AOk te #102 Or Woerner Te 6th rd?
J Uche #49 or Tennessee edge (forgot name sorry) #102?

Alex: I’m not one for the whole ultimatum thing but I understand what you’re asking here.

I’d go Trautman, AOK (though not crazy about either scenario) and I’m not so sure on the third one. Uche or Taylor. Personally, I would lean Uche.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys! Wash those hands!

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