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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. Hope you all are healthy and staying safe. The draft’s two weeks away! Doesn’t feel like it, I know, but we’ll have plenty to talk about very soon. In the meantime, we’re here for the next hour.

To your questions!

Andrew William Charapko: What would you think of the Steelers signing Clowney for a 1 year contract and cutting or trading Dupree? Would you be willing to commit to a longer term, higher paying salary to Clowney instead of Dupree?

Alex: No interest. Not swapping a known, in-house option for an out-of-house option. Clowney is a good player but has always underwhelmed a bit, sorta like Dupree until 2019, and I like Dupree’s complete game. Teams that usually let good players go and chase free agents end up making more mistakes than they do hits.

Will Travis: Why do mock drafts keep showing the Steelers picking a wide receiver. Other than QB, that seems like the last position we should be looking at on Day 1.

Alex: Because of the talent and depth there. You’re picking at #49, their latest first selection since 1963. You just want to get someone who can be a long-term option for you. Help make up for that lack of a 1st round pick. And no class is as strong as wide receiver.

Plus, it’s like CB. You want to be four deep. Protect yourself from injury and/or poor play. What if they just rolled with Moncrief/Washington/JuJu last year and didn’t take Diontae Johnson with their second selection? Would’ve been in a lot of trouble. So depth there is key and the talent/value adds up. Not saying they will take a WR at #49 but I understand the rationale.

Bob Francis: Have you taken any time lately to watch Steelers games on NFL GamePass? I watched the 2009 regular season game vs Packers and 2010 AFC Champ. game vs. Jets. Love reliving that defense, and I forgot what a complete RB Mendenhall was. But most impressive was that WR room, esp. in 2010: Hines, Wallace, Sanders, Brown, Randle-El, and Battle. Can’t have enough good WRs. Hoping they get another good one this draft!

Alex: I haven’t but those are some good memories. That “Young Money” group + Hines. And I’m a sucker for an Arnaz Battle reference.

As to receivers I like early/late, Denzel Mims is my favorite WR to watch in that early group. Virginia’s Joe Reed makes sense late and I think Antonio Gibson is a great hybrid mix. Really talking myself into him.

CP72: AK,
AJ Dillion has been a pretty hot topic pre draft. We know he fits the mold of Steelers back based on your study. I personally think drafting him would be a little redundant considering Conner and Snell are both power backs. I could get on board with a guy like Antonio Gibson because he brings something different to the running back room. Your thoughts?

Alex: I’m with you but there are two ways to look at it. What the team is likely to do and what I/you want them to do.

What they’re likely to do is draft big. That’s all they’ve done the last 5-6 years. Until they show otherwise, it’s hard to go against it.

What you/I want to them to do is find someone who breaks the mold. Someone more explosive, dynamic, with big-play ability. That doesn’t mean an Archer/Rainey type but it doesn’t have to be a back who tips the scales at 220+.

That’s why I think Gibson is a perfect fit. He’s a big dude in that Bell mold of frame, 6’0 228, but he runs 4.48 with home run ability and tons of versatility. Rare blend that checks both boxes – what the team looks for and what we want. The issue with Gibson is a lack of production. Only one year and even then, he touched the ball like 75 times on offense for the Tigers, about 100 if you include kick returns. That’s a limited body of work to go off of.

falconsaftey43: 

Hey Alex, I don’t know if you’ve gotten deep into all these guys’ tape, but they all have kind of similar profiles. What separates them in your opinion?

Laviska Shenault, Antonio Gibson, Lynn Bowden.

Alex: Most work down on Gibson. Plus, he was at the Senior Bowl so I got to watch and interview him there. Gibson is that great blend of size/dynamism I mentioned above. Bowden is similar but in a smaller frame, just under 200 pounds. Shenault is probably the best wide receiver from that standpoint with gadget ability. His issue is health. Just hasn’t been available and given his reckless, run-you-over style, that probably won’t change once he gets into the NFL.

Tom White: If the Steelers draft an RB at 49 do you see Conner becoming a trade candidate? It would obviously spell the end for him after this season (which he probably isn’t back regardless if they pick one) and though the value would be minimal for him it would be better than nothing when letting him walk.

Alex: I doubt it. They’ll want to collect talent and have options in case they get hit hard by injury like they did in 2019. Plus, with OTAs/minicamp wiped out and who knows how the preseason/regular season could be changed, I don’t think they want to get rid of a vet back like Conner and pin their hopes on a rookie (even if RB is the easiest spot to transition to).

I don’t know what value Conner has either. For the reasons you mentioned. Guy who can’t stay healthy heading into the last year of his deal? I assume you could trade him for a 5th/6th round pick but at that point, it’s not even worth considering if you’re the Steelers. More of an asset for your team in 2019 than what that future pick will probably amount to, especially knowing they’re getting multiple comp picks in 2021 and don’t *need* extras.

Dan Blocker: Hi Alex! How high could we see an ILB take by the Steelers, and do you see depth at the position in 3rd or 4th round, if we start on offense (WR or IOL) at #49. Thanks, and hope you’re doing well!

Alex: Hey Dan, hope you’re doing well too! I think they go with a hybrid player given the interest they’ve seemed to have in some of those guys. A “catch all” to try to find that safety/ILB/dime guy and address multiple of those needs in one player.

I also think they have confidence in Ulysees Gilbert III to be the top backup. The main question is their faith in Vince Williams. Dave Bryan’s made the valid point of the team, regardless of what I think about him, didn’t want to play him over Barron. At all. Speaks to a lack of confidence. Is that going to change in 2020? There’s nothing that would really indicate that. So it’s hard to say but I think they look for a hybrid player like Tanner Muse or Khaleke Hudson or someone like that.

Spencer Krick: 

Hey Alex,

With Sutton and Hilton going into contract years, What are the odds they add one in the draft?

Alex: A percentage higher than what we’re talking about. Again, tougher with only six picks but yeah, both guys won’t be back in 2021. One, hopefully, but not two. So a slot/dime option is something the team should consider sometime on Day Three.

NickSteelerFan: 

Hey Alex,

How do you feel about Ohio State ILB Malik Harrison? If available would you take him at 49? 102?

Alex: I really like him. Had a strong Senior Bowl week. Old-school size with above average athleticism. Can thump, can cover, high-intensity dude with good levels of production. I couldn’t justify it at #49 and #102 might still be a stretch but whoever gets him is getting a good player, no doubt.

Palmer: Obviously ILB is a need for depth after the departures of Barron and Matekevich. Since we have Bush and UG3 as the rangy/speed linebackers, should we be looking for more of a thumper to one day take over for Vince? My thinking here is that maybe the team would lean more towards a Shaq Quarterman than a Davis-Gaither type. Who do you see as a fit in this class?

Alex: I hear what you’re saying. I just want to get talent and I think regardless of Buck/Mack, you gotta be able to move. Have to cover. Because Vince is still going to have to match up against TEs and RBs and those guys are getting faster, not slower.

Malik Harrison who we just talked about would be an ideal fit. Logan Wilson is a good athlete with size too who has had an awesome pre-draft process and really upped his stock. There’s an argument Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings could move into an off-ball role and a good one at that, too.

Andrew: Hope you’re staying healthy Alex! Been taking turns staring out the window with my cat in order to entertain ourselves…
Ezra Cleveland, Denzel Mims, Gallimore, and Grant Delpit are on the board at 49. Order of who you would take and why?

Alex: Hey Andrew! Doing well, hope you are too. My order.

1. Denzel Mims – Best above-the-rim player in the draft who shows effort as a blocker and still room to grow. One of my favorite prospects.

2. Ezra Cleveland – Gets tougher from here but I really liked his game. I see Cleveland as the next Joe Staley and even though his impact may be limited in 2020, I can’t pass on upside like that at a premium position.

3. Neville Gallimore – Day One starting NT in a similar vein to Hargrave.

4. Grant Delpit – Interesting, polarizing player with high upside but his lack of physicality/tackling is a turn off for me and what the Steelers’ system demands.

Jeff Papiernik: Would you agree that if an EDGE guy is taken after round 4, they are all but guaranteed to not make the final 53?

Alex: No, I wouldn’t put it in those strong terms. Obviously, any player taken 6th round or later (since they don’t have a 5th) have smaller odds to make the roster but someone could beat out a guy like Skipper if he’s a flash in the pan or doesn’t show enough on STs. So that draft pick is going to be outside looking in and the lack of an offseason program hurts all the more but I wouldn’t guarantee anything.

steeltown: Your favorite mid-Rd Safety that fits the Steelers mold not named K’Von Wallace or Brandon Jones…

Alex: Aw man, you’re eliminating my favorite choices. I’ll go with Geno Stone. Average to slightly below average athlete but love his physicality, angles, processing, and his work ethic. Shunned by most Power 5 schools and a real salt-of-the-earth story. Easy one to root for.

Wreckless: 

Do you think that the team’s faith in the backup LBs is a little misplaced? With UGIII, much like Ola and Skipper, it feels like this faith is based on some preseason action and practice (which couldn’t have been too impressive since the latter two weren’t seeing snaps over Chickillo).

Logan Wilson, who you mentioned, is a good option, but I also think they should look at a guy like Jabari Zuniga to compete at OLB.

Alex: Misplaced is a touch strong. It’s not just what he did his rookie year. It’s what they saw at Akron that compelled them to invest a draft pick in the dude. That stuff sticks, at least in their mind. And from what I saw every day at camp last year, plus the preseason, plus what he did on STs before his back injury, I can make the projection – no guarantee, sure – that he can be the backup. I’m not asking him to be the starter. That’s a different story.

But with just six draft picks, you have to make some guesses. Can’t draft every position. And for any team, sometimes you have to make an educated guess as to who is going to pan out and who isn’t. And I think Gilbert III can be that guy. At the least, I want to find out more.

At OLB, you’ve had two years with Adeniyi of pretty middling results and they were willing to let Skipper loose. And Dupree being on a one-year deal too creates a lot of uncertainty at the position. I do think they’re going to add an EDGE rusher at some point.

Kevin Good: What’s your thoughts on Derrick Tuszka out of N Dakota St.being drafted by the Steelers? He seems like a beast. Plays like a TJ Watt from what I’ve seen. Your profile was very positive. Would he fit in with what we run??

Alex: I didn’t write the profile so I haven’t watched him as closely as some of the other guys here. But yeah, he’s interesting. Good athlete, sub 7 second three cone and the Steelers love drafting EDGE rushers in that category. But he’s got the small school thing going against him, made worse by the pre-draft disruption. So it’s hard seeing him as the guy without any indication of the team showing interest.

SteelDodo: 

Hi Alex,

If the Steelers draft a NT with one of the mid/late picks (e.g. Roy, Jones), do you think they’ll keep 7 defensive linemen? If not, who do you think is most likely to not make the team? I have heard Buggs made great strides last year and I would hate to lose him, but I’m not sure if a 4th or 6th round rookie NT would be able to offer enough to make McCullers expendable this year.

Alex: They might. It’s tough. Obviously keeping Heyward, Tuitt, Wormley. Alualu played too well and Buggs had a nice rookie year even if he logged around 100 snaps. And McCullers is the only actual NT whose logged snaps on the roster. So yeah, they may stretch it and keep 7. That rookie may not make it, especially as a Day 3 pick. Or maybe if Alualu drops off he’s odd man out.

Maybe they keep just 5 CBs and 7 DL. I think it’s an open question mark.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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