Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the final Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag before the 2020 NFL Draft. Light work for Kevin Colbert and company tonight, joining the rest of Steelers’ Nation to sit back and watch how Round One will go. Have a last second question? Drop it in the comments. We’ll be here for the next hour to answer anything on your mind.

To your questions!

Brian Tollini: Happy draft day, Alex. This looks to be a fairly underwhelming class
of 3-4 OLB’s but there are two players who I am intrigued by that
are probably somewhere in the round 4 discussion. Trevis Gipson of
Tulsa and Casey Toohill of Stanford. What are your takes on them and
do you have any other day 3 guys at this position that you like?

Alex: I don’t have a lot on Gipson but Toohill is interesting. Productive, good size/length, and a 7.00 three cone. Lot of Steelers’ edge rushers who tested had excellent three cones, including Sutton Smith last season. So he’d be up there. Tom Mead’s talked a lot about Alton Robinson and he had a good Senior Bowl week. Seemed very coachable.

But to me, it’s a weak edge/pass rusher class and it’s difficult to find sleeper prospects. I think the Steelers will have drafted an OLB by the end of the fourth round. Guys like Curtis Weaver, Alex Highsmith, Julian Okwara make the most sense sometime in Round 3-4, probably picks 102 or 124.


Hey Alex! It’s Draft DAY! Thinking about NT more. I know you said Alualu didn’t play base NT last year at all, but the fact that he was the base DE in place of the injured Tuitt and they had Hargrave to play the NT pretty much explains why he wouldn’t have played NT last year.

I’m more interested in if he CAN play NT well or not. So in your mind, what about his skill set would prevent him from playing NT?

Alex: Happy Draft Day! Point taken but the dude has been in the NFL for ten years now and has never been a base 3-4 nose tackle. If it hasn’t happened now, when will it? I am sure in some sort of super emergency, like Wormley, Alualu could do it. But there’s just a total lack of evidence that he can/would/could play it there.

To your point and question, there are some baseline traits to play there. Run defense is his calling card, but he isn’t the biggest dude and hasn’t had to deal with taking on double-teams and combo blocks like 0/1 techs routinely have to do. Counting on him is a stretch and definitely a projection.

Plus, even if the Steelers want to make him the guy, he’s well into his 30s and entering the last year of his contract. I’m sure we both recognize he wouldn’t be a realistic option beyond next season and you’re just having the conversation about addressing NT by 2021’s draft at the latest.

Lambert58: Hey Alex, Happy Draftimus!! Thanks for all the great work you’ve done during this draft season.
Who would be your top 5 players you’d like to see drafted by the Steelers? Any round, within reason, based on our picks.

Alex: I try not to get my hopes up. But if I had to list, in no real order…

Justin Madubuike/NT Texas A&M
Ashtyn Davis/S Cal
Brandon Jones/S Texas
Van Jefferson/WR Florida
Adam Trautman/TE Dayton

Madubuike has a Hargrave feel, Davis is a great athlete with tape to match, ditto with Jones, Jefferson knows how to get open, and I think Trautman could be a starter someday.

Tom White: Steelers throw us a curveball Alex and take CB at 49 or 102. Name a few guys it probably was that they surprised us with.

Alex: Yeah, CB would be a curveball.

First name that jumped to mind was La Tech’s Amik Robertson at 102. Very Hilton-esque. At 49, maybe Clemson’s AJ Terrell just for the Tigers’ connection and his size. I’d also toss out Virginia’s Bryce Hall and Ohio State’s Damon Arnette but I’m really just throwing darts at this point.

zbluez1: Alex, assuming the draft goes exactly like your 7 round mock you did, yep I read it ! , Who was your best pick and who was your worst, and of course why ?

Alex: Ha, not in a million years would I get everything right. But I don’t mind pretending. Personally, it’d probably be Lawrence in the 4th and Metellus in the 6th (especially for that value). I do like Hennessy a lot, wasn’t crazy about Weaver on tape, and have reservations about Duvernay’s ability to consistently get open.

So Lawrence the “best,” Weaver the “worst” though no pick I gave them would be awful, of course.

PDCJay: Alex, any predictions of preferred UDFA you would like Pittsburgh to go after?

Alex: That’s a good question. With limited Pro Day info, that’s stuff is even harder to gather. I kinda use that to create a shortlist. I actually had the wrong Samford player, WR Kelvin McKnight instead of Duck Hodges, in my projected UDFAs last year. And I based that solely off two scouts being at his Pro Day. So we don’t have that info this season. And UDFAs will be an even bigger mess than usual which is why Colbert advocated for a ten round draft (not happening, clearly).

Only name I could toss out is Dehonta Hayes, safety from Eastern Washington. Safely projected as a FA but the Steelers had a FaceTime meeting with him so that’s a clear mark of interest.

MP: Hey Alex, Just want to let you know that you’re a quasi-celebrity in our house. From camp to draft and back again. Thank you! To my question: how many years must management expect out of Ben in order to trade down?

Alex: Ha, you’re far too kind.

To your question, I don’t equate trading down to being in “sell” or not “win now” mode. If I was suggesting trading out, get picks for next year, that’d be different. And I’m not even saying get out of the first round where you lose the 5th year option. Getting a four year contract either way.

I think trading down spreads out the holes you can fill, guys you can get to win. I want as many players as possible to make an impact this year. That’s probably going to be Day 1 and Day 2 guys. Day 3 are normally hard to count on and even moreso this year (all rookies will have a more difficult transition). And I don’t want to put all those chips on essentially my #49 pick. If he’s a bad pick, if he gets hurt, whatever happens, then you don’t have anyone who can help you. More picks = more bites at the apple = more holes filled = more chances to hit and win and find guys to help you today.

So I really reject the premise and I don’t use Ben’s window as a reason to/not trade down. I just base it off the board, current roster needs, and what the offers are.

Stone Age Tone: 

Hey Alex, kinda weird this year with no pick tonight?

What chance we draft a punter Saturday & which one would you most like to see in the black & gold?

Alex: It’s weird for a lot of reasons. No 1st rounder is just one slice of that pie.

Low chance for a punter. Hard to make that sell if you stick with just six picks. Top two are Braden Mannn from A&M and Michael Turk from Arizona State. Turk has a bit of a Sepulevda feel so I’ll go with him. But expect a UDFA, not a pick.

Chad Elliott: Can you give me one of these positions that is least likely to be addressed.with the Steelers top two picks?
Running back, Nose tackle, Safety, Ilb, olb, guard, center, tackle, wr

Alex: Just one? The least likely? I do pretty much lump center/guard together, for what it’s worth. I’d go inside linebacker. Maybe on Day Three but I can’t see it that early. Pretty confident they’re going offense at 49 which leaves 102 for maybe a defensive player and I see NT, OLB, safety all being much more likely.

Pghomer: Hey Alex all the pre-draft stuff on the site has been outstanding. Thanks again so much.
I’m getting a feeling that tomorrow when the PS make their 1st pick I’m going to say…”That makes sense” but I won’t be doing my “HAPPY DANCE” like I did when we drafted Shazier/Watt. Who would make Alex do his “Happy Dance” and if you do -Please record it and share it with us!!
Mine would be Madubuike/Mims/UCHE!

Alex: Thanks so much! I’m with you. It’s hard to do Day 2 “wrong” tomorrow. I’d only be mad if they go QB or CB. Anything else, I’d understand (even RB).

What would I be thrilled over? Definitely a couple names you mentioned, Madubuike, Mims, and I’d be pretty happy with Gallimore too. But I don’t know if I have that *guy* the way I and so many others looked at Devin Bush last season.

Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: A few questions for you alex if james connor was in this draft class of rbs where does he rank among the the top 5 and same with juju with the top 10 wrs?
Who are your draft crushes for each rd the steelers realistically have a shot at?

Alex: That’s a fair question but I don’t have a grading system I could compare/contrast to. A little apples/oranges. From a talent standpoint, he’d be near the top for me. But then you take health into consideration, it’s just difficult to do. Similar with JuJu but he’d up there as well.

I don’t have a true breakdown for draft crushes by round or even so much by position. But a lot of the guys I’ve mentioned I’m high on.

Denzel Mims/WR Baylor
Van Jefferson/WR Florida
Jauan Jennings/WR Tennessee
Adam Trautman/WR Dayton
Lloyd Cushenberry III/C LSU
Justin Madubuike/NT Texas A&M
Malik Harrison/ILB Ohio State
Logan Wilson/ILB Wyoming
Ashtyn Davis/S Cal
Brandon Jones/S Texas
Geno Stone/S Iowa

steeltown49: One draft prospect on Offense, that has been projected to the Steelers at #49 by the national media, that you would absolutely hate to be the selection (and you cant pick QB Hurts)

Alex: Can I pick another QB? I’m not sure what other offensive players have been mocked to them at 49. Mostly RBs and I wouldn’t hate any of them. Maybe one of the back end tackles like Niang from TCU? But like I said above, it’s hard for them to royally screw up #49.

PainIsOrange: Happy Draft Alex! If the trade offer that Dave Te said was rumored offered by NE for a 2nd round pick, would you take it? And who would you aim to draft with your suddenly increased capital?

Alex: It’d be tempting. 49 for three third rounders and maybe that 4th they just picked up from Tampa Bay. It would of course depend on what the board looks like. Harder to project names but in terms of position, I’d be addressing WR, NT, and probably o-line and EDGE if it were up to me in the third round. Three or four guys who could help you in Year 1. Looks pretty good, no?


Hi Alex,
Depot was fantastic this draft season. Thanks for all the hard work! Two questions:

What do you see as the realistic playing time scenario (not counting injuries) if the Steelers draft a S with the first pick this year? I’m thinking someone like Winfield could play dime this year and maybe takeover Nickel next year? Someone like Davis or Chinn could play dime but also takeover a lot of Baron’s snaps?

I’m hoping some of the second tier OTs fall to us this year, if you had your pick of the litter, how would you rank these guys?
Austin Jackson, Ezra Cleveland, Prince Wanogho, Niang, Isaiah Williams, Josh Jones

Alex: The path wouldn’t be immediately clear. Even in dime, you have your six of: Haden/Nelson, Edmunds/Fitzpatrick, Hilton/Sutton. But all it’s going to take is one injury basically anywhere in the secondary to change that.

If one of the safeties goes down, obviously, door swings wide open to be an every-snap guy, just as Edmunds did with Burnett out Week 1 in 2018. If say, Hilton goes down, Sutton is your full-time slot, and your draft pick slots into that dimebacker role. And if Haden/Nelson go down and Sutton kicks over to LCB/RCB (possible Layne steps in, depends on readiness) then the same scenario plays out and the safety now works in dime. It’s also possible Edmunds slides down to play a hybrid role in some situations if they’re not comfortable with the ILB situation next to Bush. A little less likely but a possible avenue.

And you can bet someone will get hurt throughout the course of a long (hopefully) season. So playing time wouldn’t be immediate but it’ll be there by season’s end.

And then next year, Hilton and Sutton are both FAs and only one will be back. Not both. So you have dime snaps immediately available and you possibly reevaluate Edmunds’ role if he doesn’t progress like you want/need him to.

RedzC: Not accounting for some team coming to the Steelers with a great deal, what’s more likely to happen? The Steelers try to initiate any type of draft trade or they don’t make one at all?

Alex: That’s a lot of inside-baseball I’m just not privy too. I’m sure they’re working the phones, at least exploring options, would be foolish not to, but I couldn’t tell you which is more likely. It’s not like we’re guaranteed to know if they wanted to try to trade down unless someone happens to find out and report on it. I still think there’s decent odds, gave it a 33% chance on the podcast, they move down.

falconsaftey43: Can you remember a Steelers draft when there was this much disagreement on what position(s) should be targeted early in the draft?

Alex: No but it’s a year like any other for so many reasons. The board is usually a bit clearer when they’re picking on Day One, even if that’s in the 20s. Their pick at #49 will be more reflective than ever on what the rest of the NFL does. So that makes it an obviously more difficult projection.

And it is a year where they don’t have a screaming need either like they did at ILB last year, where the depth was so thin and the need so great you just knew they had to do something to get Devin White or Devin Bush. That created clarity. Had the Steelers stayed and not been able to move up though? I have no idea who they would’ve actually taken. I really wrestled with that.

That’s all for this week. Thanks everyone! Enjoy the draft and be safe.

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