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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly edition of the mailbag. The NFL Draft is quickly upon us and I’m excited to tackle another draft weekend with you all.

As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Kyle Ellenbogen: Little over 20 days out from the draft now, who would be your ideal first round pick?

Alex: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if I have an ideal scenario. The more I watch and learn about him, despite the offensive focus, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah would be a great player and talent. I’d love to see that. Or maybe get a real nasty road grader like Teven Jenkins; but if Banner is going to play RT, then it gets pretty jumbled there. But I try not to think about ideals too often because when you’re sitting at 24, you don’t usually get it exactly the way you want it.

Jake Sas: Harris, Etienne, JOK, and Jaycee Horn are all on the board at 24, who’s your pick?

Alex: Think I have to go off what I said earlier. I would go JOK. Talent/value/need all wins out over the rest. Hard guy to pass up on. I like Harris a ton but he’s not a Steeler ten years from now. JOK might be.

ÄB:

Alex,

Got into a debate with someone on Twitter and I wanted to know your thoughts.

If you had to choose today, 4/8/21, at this point in their careers between between James Conner or Le’Veon Bell (both fully healthy), who would you roll with?

Alex: I’d go Conner. The guy still has talent. He can still play. It’s just been all the injuries tripping him up. Bell just feels sorta finished. Pretty rapid fall from grace. I don’t think I’d want to trust either guy as my feature back but I’d go with Conner. And just pray he can stay off of the trainer’s table.

Robert Francis: Hey, Alex! I wrote into the podcast but think Dave misread my question so I’ll pose it here. I was asking about the 2022 season (not 2021) – I’m wondering if you feel as optimistic as your Terrible Take from a few weeks ago. You had me convinced! Back then, we all were expecting more comp picks and more cap space for 2022. But with JuJu back and other FAs not getting the expected interest, maybe just two comps. And then the team pushed a bunch of money into future years.

Alex: What was the Take? Can’t quite remember. Was it the one comparing them to the Pats? I still think the general principle feels about the same but you’re right, fewer comp picks are probably coming than expected. We’ll see how things look in a year. So much can change in 12 months, as these last 12 have shown us.

And if that’s the take you’re referring to, it’s not that 2022 would be a great year. It would just be starting to get through that transitional phase. Where you start moving in a new direction instead of leaving the old one. It won’t produce immediate success. It’s not like New England has become a Super Bowl favorite.

D.j. Reynolds: 

Does J. Conner remaining a FA allow us some flexibility if we miss the guy (whoever it may be) we are aiming for in the draft?

Also, is there a decent guy at T/G (that may be available in say the 3rd rd or later) that you see as capable of playing C that could be a surprise pick to transition to that spot?

Alex: Maybe to some small extent but I don’t think that’s your Plan A, B, or C. They’re not eager to bring him back for a reason. So re-signing him after the draft, unless it’s truly as a #2, feels sort of desperate.

Yeah, there’s a couple of guys who fit that bill. Notre Dame’s Robert Hainsey is the first who pops into my head. Spoke with Texas Tech’s Jack Anderson yesterday who says he’s been working at center. Maybe Wisconsin’ Cole Van Lanen. Perhaps Grambling’s David Moore could get a look there.

Flashback: 

I’m coming around to it could very well be an impact defender. Haden is what 32? And two losses of starters.

I smell Asante Samuel Jr. round 1

Alex: It’s possible, especially if Najee Harris is off the board. Goes to Miami or something. Samuel Jr. does check all the boxes. Young, athletic, good ball skills, bloodlines, Tomlin/Colbert at his Pro Day. There’s a reason why he was the second defender on my Top 15 list I posted yesterday.

J. Martin: With the Steelers agreeing to multiple contracts with void years (Ben, JuJu, Ebron), to what extent do you think the organization is mortgaging the future to solve cap issues during the 2021 season?

Alex: To about the same extent as the rest of the league. Doing this because they pretty much had to given the cap constriction this season. It’s not ideal but there weren’t a lot of other moves to make. Even if this team had $5-7 million less in cap space, they’d have a real hard time navigating the rest of the offseason and 2021 in-season money. Hopefully the cap shoots well above $200 million and makes this ~$23 million in dead money a relatively small percentage of it.

SteelDodo: 

I’m excited to make one of these on time!

I have two questions about the CB room:

1. Assuming that we’ll need a rookie CB to play quite a bit this year, would you be more comfortable with a rookie starting as the nickel CB or as an outside CB?
2. If we wait until the third or fourth round to draft a CB, what do you think the pecking order between Pierre, Layne, and the rookie would be at the start of the season? (i.e. who would be the third CB, and who would be at the bottom of the depth chart)

Alex: Glad you could make it!

That first one is tough to answer. In a perfect world, I’d prefer Sutton on the outside. But the slot can be tough because it’s so “noisy.” So much more going on than on the outside, especially with how the Steelers have used Hilton/Sutton. They wore a ton of hats. So that may be tougher. But it really comes down to the prospect himself. His IQ, his experience, his comfort, how much of a change it’ll be from his college scheme to what you’re running. So I think that’s partly a case-by-case basis depending on the player you’re talking about. We get to muse about theory; the Steelers put it in practice. And that changes the conversation.

It still sounds like Cam Sutton will be the RCB in base with him sliding to nickel in sub-packages. And my guess is Pierre will be next man up at RCB. But he’ll battle Layne this summer for the job. And the rookie…who knows. Depends on who he is, exactly where he’s drafted, and if he can play inside/out.

zbluez1: Alex, if you had an O-line L-R of Jenkins, Dotson, Meinerz, DD, Banner and Farrell as a blocking TE, of the second tier running backs, available in this yrs draft, who would you want running behind that line ?

Alex: Anyone with two legs. Because your o-line is going to open up some truck-sized holes.

You’re obviously running more a power/gap scheme behind that group so you don’t want/need a one-cut, zone-type of runner. I’d probably want someone explosive that can take advantage of getting to the second level freely. I don’t need so much a power guy to churn out those tough yards because my line is creating that push up front. So anyone fast and explosive would probably fit best.

MudBanjo: 

Hi Alex,

do you think a QB pick beyond the first round is worth it? I feel there are so many other holes to fill, and its so unlikely that we hit on an upgrade at QB outside the first. It seems like an obvious waste, but i see people all the time mocking us taking Mond or Trask at 55.

Alex: Most cases, no. The success rate is so low. And it’s hard to develop those guys. Maybe a little bit different this year with this probably (but not guaranteed) being Ben’s final season. But I’m a go big or go home guy at the position. Maybe you end up with Russell Wilson or Dak Prescott. But most times, you get…Mason Rudolph. A semi-decent backup and that was about it. Not worth it.

But. I think this team could take a QB in the mid-rounds. This has a Rudolph feel all over. Taking a Trask/Mond/Newman would not shock me.

stan: We’re finally edging up to draft day? What are your position groups for the 5 picks in the first four rounds?

Alex: Well these things never go like we plan them out. But here’s the five I have for you now.

RB
OC
OLB
ILB
TE

But you could also throw in a DB and a QB. You always focus on roster needs but sometimes talent wins out, especially as you get later in the draft. Just take good players who can make your team better and hang out for a long time.

steeltown: Overall thoughts on any of the recent signings… Jamir Jones, Ballage, Coward, Miller, Haeg etc… any of them get you excited, any you think could be potential contributors?

Alex: Not really. Lot of them were depth, guys plugging roster holes. But I’ll get into camp and see how they look. I did like Ballage a little bit more than I thought I would. But wouldn’t say I’m excited about it. Miles Killebrew was probably the last guy they signed that had me geeked but that’s the special teams nerd in me.

DropTheHammer: What prevents this team from adopting a Seattle cover-3 approach if Haden gets hurt? Wouldn’t that cover up the flaws in Layne and Pierre’s game, while enhancing their length and speed? It wouldn’t suit Haden or Sutton particularly well, but if you need to go with long, straight line Corner it would seem to make sense.

Alex: There’s nothing really preventing them from doing that. Aside from just current team philosophy. They just moved away from that in order to play more man coverage. They wanted a secondary that made more splash plays, took advantage of all the pressure they were getting up front, and the key to playing good defense today — to me — are the units who take the football away the most. Play a more passive Cover 3 and these good/great QBs tend to pick you apart and can throw hot/short when the rush gets home.

But I know your question is about if Haden gets hurt. I think we’ll get into camp and see how Pierre/Layne look and go from there. They seem high on Pierre.

Dan Blocker: Alex, what are your thoughts on CB Trevor Williams. Camp body, or decent competition for the nickel role?

Alex: I just wrote up a futures article on him the other day you can check out here. Seems like the guy can play. Just had some bad injury luck the past couple seasons that’s caused him to bounce around. With depth here thin, especially in the slot, maybe he can stick.


That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

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