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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your weekly mailbag. This time next week, we’ll be hours away from Day One of the 2020 NFL Draft. Of course, Pittsburgh will have a light day but still, time flies when you’re stuck in quarantine.

As always, we’re here for the next hour. To your questions!

David Rudin: Hey Alex, so how’s life in the basement? 😉 Wondering what tinkering with your latest mock draft you are contemplating for your last and final mock just before the draft? Wholesale changes or minor edits?
Take it easy Man!

Alex: Hey David! It’s pretty much unchanged from pre-quarantine. But I’m doing well and I hope you are too. That’s a good question. I have a big Word doc where I just lay out different scenarios for mocks and see which I like the best and makes most sense. So sometimes they’re drastically different versions, sometimes minor tweaks. There are names from my last mock draft I want to keep and some I’m willing to change. I’m not sure what the final version is going to look like. Try not to box myself into “this is what I’m going to do” because I’ll get too close-minded. If there’s ever a year to consider everything, it’s this one.

But we’ll find out my final educated guesses a day or two before the draft.

Stone Age Tone: RUNNING BACK AT #49 for me Alex. Who do you think will……….
1. Will still be available
2. Is most suitable for the Steelers.

Alex: That’s a good question. Conventional wisdom suggests Swift and Taylor will be gone. So that leaves guys like Dobbins, Edwards-Helaire, and Akers as the top backs for Pittsburgh. None of them fit as well as say, Taylor, but Akers would feel like the most realistic fit. Bigger back with production who Eddie Faulkner/NC State recruited out of HS. Enough connections there, I think.

Tyler: What is your personal opinion on KJ Hamler’s ability to sustain success in the NFL? The obvious concern is with his size and I’m curious to hear your opinion on whether his talent outweighs his potential durability concerns. Additionally, do you think he could be in play for the Steelers at #49?

Alex: I do think he’ll be in play, however you want to define that, but you’re right, the size is the obvious concern. Steelers don’t draft WRs that tiny. But the dude can fly and is legitimately one of the fastest players in his class. I generally am loathe to use these terms but he’s obviously not a #1 WR. He’s Will Fuller. A compliment, a burner, you can’t center around your offense but obviously can get dynamic plays from.

He’s a lot of fun to watch though. Just have to know he’s not “the guy.” Always second/third fiddle.

Big Buddy: Alex, this is a quick one. Can Zack Baun be a buck ilb in the NFL? Maybe even an upgrade over Vince after some development..

Alex: Yeah, I think that’s an option. Could play on the EDGE a little, be a 4-3 SAM, or potentially kick inside at the Buck. I fully do not expect him to be there at #49 though. Pipe dream.

SteelDodo: What are your thoughts on Robert Spillane? e.g. Any potential to be a backup ILB or is he ST only? Do you think he is a viable 4th ILB, or do you think he is mostly just a camp-body?

Alex: He had a really incredibly productive eight games last season. 11 or so special teams tackles in half a season is mind-blowing. He was all over the place. Tackle machine. He’s a viable special teamer and maybe a slightly better athlete than Matakevich but he’s not someone I want on defense. Special teams? Heck yes. But probably nothing more.

David Rudin: So for the final are you just rethinking the last mock or are you watching me tape, reading other mocks and taking into account any “new” info you might come across?

Alex: Oh yeah, I’m always taking into account new info and watching as many players as I can. I’m not sitting on my hands or just checking any boxes. Less so when it comes to other mocks, other than getting a feel for where players end up (our discussion about Gil Brandt’s Top 150 creates clarity and I’ll lean on that) but yeah, working to the end.

zbluez1: Alex, I’m of the opinion that the second round pick will be either a WR or RB and the third round pick will be the highest rated position not picked in the second, or the best available O-LINE/NT. Would that senario surprise you?

Alex: No, that sounds very reasonable. Makes sense to go skill position at #49 after investing so heavily in defense at the top for years now. That’s where I’m leaning for my final mock draft and I obviously had Michael Pittman Jr. there in my last (and am tempted to keep him, though I’m not sure where I’ll end up).

steeltown: Favorite IOL that fits what the Steelers look for, not named Cushenberry, Ruiz, Hennessey or Biadasz

Alex: Aw man, you’re limiting me here. It sounds like there’s medical concerns with Biadasz so he’s probably going to fall a bit, especially in a year where medicals are harder to come by and there weren’t any formal rechecks. Class gets pretty weak after those names.

How about UL’s Kevin Dotson? Steelers had a private visit set up with him. He’s one of the best run blockers in the draft. Potential 4th round pick. Here’s my report on him.

SteelDodo: 

Hi Alex, I was reading an article about the new CBA, and there were two provisions that caught my eye. How do you think these will impact the Steelers roster construction?

1. More active players during gameday, but one of those extra spots is reserved for an additional OL. (I’m thinking that maybe this incentivizes the team to always carry 9 OL instead of sometimes dropping to 8).

2. With the new rules about the practice squad, and being able to promote a player twice before subjecting him to waivers. (I would imagine that it will be easier for the team to go into the season shorthanded at a particular position, like when they went into the season with only 3 OLB a year or two ago)

Thanks!

Alex: Yeah, I think what you’re saying makes sense. Most will probably carry nine because they’re compelled to. There’s essentially a designated o-line spot. To the latter about the PS, it’s good flexibility. I don’t know how it impacts things by position but there will be more freedom to call players up. Team lost guys last year, like Patrick Morris, after trying to get them through waivers following Pouncey’s suspension. So good way to protect your own guys without them getting poached.

Christopher Poknis: Why do mocks outside of Pittsburgh keep drafting a QB for the Steelers? No need to sit a guy behind Ben for 2 years, already have Mason doing that, on a playoff capable team with immediate holes to fill. What are your thoughts?

Alex: Because people are dumb. To be fair to them, they can’t follow the Steelers as closely as we do. I’m still hoping on doing my full, 7 round mock draft and I’m sure other fanbases will make fun of – rightly – my picks. Because I can’t be clued into every single team and what they need.

But you know my thoughts. It’s not happening. Maybe Kevin Davidson out of Princeton at Round 7 but I did a little more digging yesterday and though assistant coach Blaine Stewart worked with QBs at the Shrine Game, he coached the team Davidson wasn’t on. So it’s not as strong of a connection.

CP72: 

AK,
Thanks to you and all the guys for another excellent year of draft coverage. Really top notch.
Ok on to the question:

You’ve had a chance by now to look at quite bit of tape. Give me a a few names you said “that’s a Steeler” while watching their tape? Also give me a name or two you would avoid

Alex: Thank you, CP! Our team did an unbelievable job. As always.

Couple of names. Some top tier guys, some not.

1. Jonathan Taylor/RB Wisconsin – Steelers care about two things at RB. Size and production. And he checks those boxes as well as you could hope. If he slips to #49, Pittsburgh will be tempted.

2. Michael Pittman Jr./WR USC – More I read about him the more I’m convinced. Tough, high character, special teams ace, USC alma mater, football bloodlines, Tomlin knew his dad. So much “there” there to say he could be the guy.

3. Malik Harrison/ILB Ohio State – Great size, thumps against the run, but can cover too. And an Ohio State guy.

4. K’Von Wallace/S Clemson & Brandon Jones/Texas & Antoine Winfield Jr./Minnesota – Lumping them all togehter. Versatile, good athletes, high character. Jones seemed to blow teams away with his football IQ which has a very Cam Sutton feel. Winfield Jr for his versatility, ball skills, and bloodlines (and Tomlin directly coached his dad).

5. Jon Runyan Jr/OL Michigan – Tough, versatile, bloodlines, and a Michigan man. I can hear Tomlin already turning the card in.

MoreRingsThanYourTeam: If you could have one play back in Steelers history, what play would it be and why? It could be a defensive play, an offensive play, etc.

Alex: Oh man, what a big question. My first thought went to Neil O’Donnell’s 4th quarter INT that essentially ended the game, putting Dallas up 27-17. Than your username would be 100% authentic and the Steelers might have more rings than any other team (I’m guessing you made this before NE tied things up). Though who knows if O’Donnell and the Steelers actually come back and win it.

My second thought went to Rodney Harrison’s INT in the 2004 Title Game. That one crushed me. Ended the game by halfitme. Does Pittsburgh win? I doubt it. But that one, oof, really stung.

zbluez1: Alex, assuming the “top” RB’s are gone by Rd 3, would you be comfortable with either Antonio Gibson or D. Evans in Rd 4 to be the “guy” to compliment J. Conner?

Alex: Gibson is exciting because of his versatility. If you can find someone similar, like a Lynn Bowden, then yeah, I can get behind that. And I know they talked to Evans. But aside from finding that dynamic slash player, I wouldn’t want a compliment guy. Because Conner is gone next year and you have a bunch of compliments and no lead dog. So this team is probably drafting another one again. Get me the guy or punt until next year and draft one in the 2nd round.

UK/Steeler Fan since 1969: Hey Alex:
Most likely to be drafted, CB or S? Who ya got?

Alex: Oh definitely a safety. They need to draft a safety. There’s a tumbleweed blowing across Heinz Field behind Minkah and Edmunds. CB is much more a luxury. But! I think it’s possible they take a CB late on Day 3 with Hilton/Sutton FAs after the season (both won’t return) and Haden entering the final year of his deal in 2021.


That’s all for this week. Thanks everyone! Stay safe.

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