Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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As always, welcome back to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. We’re here for the next hour to answer any and all questions on your mind.

To your questions!

Spencer Krick: 

Hey Alex,

Who do you think makes the biggest leap this year?

Alex: Hey Spencer. I think there’s a ton of candidates. I know I keep harping on him but UG3. Played as well as he did last year through that painful back injury. Excited to see him healthy.Okorafor apparently can blame much of his disappointing 2019 on a shoulder injury. This is a big year for him but if his lack of power was because he wasn’t right, then you could see a jump in his play. Remember, he was young and raw coming out of college. Now he’s got a couple years in the NFL under his belt.HardPunkKore: 

Good afternoon Alex, 2 different questions for you.

1. When do those new CBA rules come into play – specifically the 17 game season and playoff expansion for two 7 seeds?

2. How about a dark horse to make the 53 no one is expecting nor talking about.

Alex: Seven seeds begins this year. I’m a little fuzzier on the 17 game season but the league can impose the rule as early as next year – 2021. And I imagine they’ll do it right away, especially assuming they will take a hit financially this year because of the pandemic.Dark horse….I wrote about him, Dave had the stones to actually put him on the 53 but WR Saeed Blacknall could have a really good summer. He’s a terrific athlete and been a big-play threat everywhere he’s gone. That’s a deep sleeper but qualifies for your question. Maybe Alexander Myres as a 6th corner/special teamer or Tyree Kinnel at safety with depth being poor there.falconsaftey43: Hi Alex,You’re given the opportunity to see the Steelers’ entire draft board before their next draft, but you’re sworn to secrecy if you do look at it. Do you do it, or too big of a burden to never be able to convey any of that inside knowledge?

Alex: Can I do the draft day analyst game of “this guy looks like he’s a Steeler?” I love when you can tell one of the analysts knows who the pick is, some producer in their ear so they have their talking points ready, but they can’t spell it out and spoil it outright.

Assuming I can’t do that, I dunno, I think I would. I’d love to see the board, get an idea for process, how they rank things, any look behind the curtain, even if I couldn’t do anything with it. It beats me trying to unpixelate the draft board from photos on the team website (and believe me, I’ve tried).

Christopher Pokins: Hey Alex,
Lots of UFA roster decisions after the season. Understanding this years performance and injuries can play a big part in the decision making process. Name me the 3 you think will be back for sure, and one who may surprise people. I’m thinking Hilton may look for greener pastures, with Sutton being returning to take his snaps.

Alex: You’re right, Christopher. Ton of decisions this year and that’s a point Dave and I have stressed on the podcast. It’s really hard to predict. But if you’re making me choose…

Cam Sutton – Because Hilton has played more and will probably be too expensive to retain. Sutton can be the slot corner in 2021 at a cheaper rate.

JuJu Smith-Schuster – I think he’s going to have a big, bounceback year and I don’t believe the Steelers will let him get away. Maybe they’re forced to put the tag on him but he’ll return in some capacity. Know they’ve let other WRs walk before (usually that’s been because of a difficult choice to make like AB vs Wallace vs Sanders) but those years also haven’t had Ben in the final prime season or two.

Matt Feiler – I wouldn’t put him in the “for sure” category. I don’t know if really anyone could be put in that group right now aside from Cam Heyward’s extension and TJ Watt’s inevitable deal that’ll probably happen next summer. But Feiler shouldn’t cost too much and he’s just a really solid player.

I don’t know who that surprise would be. The surprise, and this is total speculation on my part to be clear, is that Villanueva could retire. I have no idea what’s in his heart and I understand he started playing football late but the dude will be 33 for the start of the 2021 season and has always dealt with nagging shoulder problems. He’s clearly not someone defined by football and he graduated from Carnegie Mellon while with the Steelers. He’s a guy who doesn’t need the game and will walk away before his body forces him to quit. So that’s not someone coming back, I know, but that’s a “surprise” I could see become reality.

treeher: Alex, what’s the weakest part of our team right now? I say it’s the offensive line, which is astounding considering in past years it’s been cited as one of our greatest strengths.

Alex: Understand where you’re coming from but I think one reason why the line ended the year so poorly last year was a lack of answers from Sarrett and young QB play hamstringing what the team could do. There was a stretch the first 10 weeks or so where the line was allowing very little pressure/sacks. Then things fell apart. Get Feiler inside, assume one of Banner/Chuks can hold their own at RT, and they’ll be a solid front five.

I would say starting NT and safety depth as weaknesses. For all the reasons I’ve mentioned before. And even coaching too. Can someone like Randy Fichtner be creative enough to make all the weapons work? That’ll be a challenge for him. He isn’t the most crafty OC in football. The concern with Fichtner and Butler is that they need elite level talent for them to look good.

Thanks for stopping by, everyone. I’ll hang out here the next few hours for anyone popping in late.

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