Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to our weekly mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind. Anything on the schedule release you’re going to look for first?

To your questions!

falconsaftey43: Hey Alex, now that you’ve had some time to digest things and looking to the tape more, just from a talent and investment standpoint of the RBs (not necessarily who else could/would have been draft in each scenario) do you prefer Dobbins/Akers at 49, or McFarland at 124?

Alex: I really hadn’t given a lot of thought into that specific either/or. I understand the selection of McFarland and am just thrilled they took a back who wasn’t 225+ pounds and runs in the 4.5’s-4.6’s. Had they taken that guy at #124, I really wouldn’t have liked it. I just wish they had done something else to address NT or safety to let them take a more *luxury* pick like McFarland.

The worry/concern is assuming Conner walks, do they just wind up going all-in with a RB in the early rounds of 2021? That seems pretty feasible. So you could’ve just done that this year and not worried about it next season. I guess that’s a hindsight thing we’ll have a better answer to 12 months from now.

zbluez1: Looking at the D-line, you and I both agree that there isn’t a true nose tackle we’d like to see start currently on the roster, are we seeing a shift possibly towards more of a 2/4/5 as a base alignment? Or are we going to see a 3/4 where the “nose” is only responsible for a single blocker/gap possibly leaving the linebackers with much more plug a hole duties ?

Alex: We know that their 2-4-5 nickel is the package they play a plurality of the time. Here’s the percentages year-by-year.

2019: 47.2%
2018: 29.4% (third most grouping that year, believe it or not)
2017: 32.5%
2016: 64.9%

Ebbs and flows and going back through the numbers, a little lower than I expected (their 3-4 base was used more than nickel in 2017 and 2018) but we all know the Steelers are in sub more than their 3-4. So the shift is already there.

And we’ve seen this team one-gap and stunt more and more out of base. Having a guy like Hargrave was playing to that skillset. Things may change knowing he’s not there and no one else on the roster can do what he did but I don’t think that’s a new revelation either. Five years ago? Sure. But not today.


I have a two-fer for you Alex.

By the end of the season, who do you think will be TE1? Vance since he’s the better blocker or Ebron since he’s the better receiver (which I think Ben will appreciate)?

And are you only a fan of the Dragon Ball Super anime or do you read the manga, too? Because I really think you’d like Moro as a villain.

Alex: Whoever stays healthy? Honestly that’s what it feels like. Which body holds up better. I really see it as a split. Starter in name only. Give the edge to McDonald because you’re right, he’s a more competent blocker but the goal is to keep their seasonal snap counts in that 400-500 range. Anything more and you’re taxing them and taking too much of a risk and toll on their bodies. Vance played a ton of snaps last year (702) and that didn’t make him better. Made him worse. You want 2018 numbers where he played about 560 snaps. That’s ideal.

Just watch the anime. That’s probably kinda lame to the hardcore people who watch the Japanese originals or read the manga. But with some time on my hands, and I have been trying to get into reading now that the season has slowed down (though I’ve been sticking with more non-fiction than fiction) maybe I can give it a shot.

JamesinNYC: Hey Alex, wanted to say thanks for the 2nd place prize. I payed it back to you guys by buying add free version.
The team TerriblePodcast was great.
If you had to pick one draft pick that had the best chance to start who would it be?
Who do you think would have been graded higher Paxton Lynch or Rudolph?

Alex: Congrats again James and we’re thrilled you bought the ad-free version. I hope you like it. Understand the ads can increase load times but it’s how we function as a site and we’re glad to be able to offer that alternative. I promise it’s well worth the $25.

That’s tough on the draft pick knowing the landscape of this season. I think back to 2011. Lockout year where the spring/summer and even the HOF Game was cancelled. Cam Heyward was on the bench but Marcus Gilbert ended up starting 13 games. So I think about the positions that are the easiest to transition to. Running back and offensive line. So that leaves McFarland and Dotson. Path for either will be tough but McFarland will play and injuries have a better chance of opening the door for him.

Ditto for Claypool. He’s #4 right now but the door will open somehow, someway. Injury, poor performance, JuJu gets attacked by murder hornets, the top three won’t stay there for an entire 16 games (and if they do, that’s a great problem to have).

But it’s hard to see any of them starting out of the gate barring injury. But they drafted guys who can play on special teams Day One. Claypool, Highsmith, McFarland if he gets a look in the KR game (I think he should/will) and Brooks will all do work there.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
Based on the recent schedule leaks, does it seem like the league isn’t anticipating any delay to the start of the season?

Alex: I don’t trust or pat attention to the leaks because half of them are wrong and the schedule comes out in four hours – I can wait – but yeah, they’ve put on an “everything’s fine!” face for most of this pandemic. They have contingency plans, lot of work behind the scenes, but they’re going to operate business as usual until they can’t.

Things can change in an instant. That’s about the only thing I know from what’s happened the last two months.

Stone Age Tone: Hey Alex, I still say we need a big NT to combat the running game in our division especially. What’s your best guess at the price of Snacks Harrison?

Alex: I couldn’t tell you. Probably a one-year deal, which obviously eats up all your cap space. Can’t shift any money around. Probably a $3-4 million deal if I had to guess.

Andy N: Hey Alex, if you could add a final bargain free agent, is there anyone left that you’d take a look at?

Alex: It’s very limited right now. Even the positions I’d like for them to add, nose tackle and safety, have pretty much nothing available. I think you’re best off to a Colbert camp trade than try to sign someone today. And that’s probably the most likely thing to occur.



Who is your pick for draft choice having the best year?

Alex: It’s really hard to determine, like I said earlier. No one has a clear cut path to playing time. It could come down to what injury occurs where first. Whether that’s a WR that opens the door for Claypool, OLB for Highsmith, RB for McFarland. Right now, they’re all looking at bit roles on their side of the ball, 15-ish snaps a game if everyone is healthy. But I think you have a class who can make an immediate impact, even if that’s on special teams. That phase lost a lot of talented players. Holton, Chickillo, Matakevich, Nix. So drafting guys who can replace them (Claypool for Holton, Highsmith for Chickillo, Brooks for Matakevich, signing Watt for Nix) was smart.

Wixie: Hey Alex, what do you think is the Steelers plan at qb after Ben? Do you think they draft a qb in the first round next year?

Alex: That determination is probably based off how Ben plays/feels this year and how Mason Rudolph performs in preseason/camp. So in a wait and see mode if their confidence in both those guys pays off. The odds of them taking a QB in 2021 are much higher than they were in 2020 (which to be fair, was basically zero).

JohnB: Not trying to compare too much but as Fitz gets more comfortable do you see us letting him roam like Troy? or are they using that hybrid role for that kind of play?

Alex: The goal is, or should be, to move him around. You don’t want him stuck to center field where offenses can dictate their routes and passing attack away from him. He needs to have the chance to make as many impact plays as possible because he’s an impact player. So yeah, I think they will get more creative with him now that he’s not entering mid-season like he did in 2019.

I’ll write about it more later in the offseason but for the first time in what feels like forever, they’re continuity with the group. Same group of DBs from the end of one year to the next. That’s a rare advantage for this team whose shuffled guys in and out on an annual basis.

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

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