Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. Two weeks away from the NFL draft. Can’t wait for it. As always, we’re here for the next hour answering anything on your mind.

To your questions!

Bastiat: Best short term investment strategy: Bitcoin or Ethereum?

Alex: You should barely listen to anything I say when it comes to football. So you definitely do not want my crypto advice. Until you wrote it, I had never even heard of Ethereum. Find someone much smarter than me, ha.

D.j. Reynolds: 

Alex, hope all is well! I’m excited for the draft as we inch closer.

Is JOK still your guy? If not, who are you thinking now?

Alex: Hey D.j.!

If you’re asking me if JOK is “my guy” in the sense of “could the Steelers still draft him after re-signing Vince Williams?” Yes, I think they could. You don’t pass up on top-shelf talent because you signed someone to a one-year deal who probably won’t be on your roster in 2022. Williams’ return much more likely takes off the “draft a mid-round ILB for depth,” but it wouldn’t prevent you from taking a high-end player if you wanted to.

Though I can make a case for Owusu-Koramoah being the guy, I still think RB is much more likely to be the pick at #24. So Najee Harris or Travis Etienne.

Matt Smith: Can you sort the 11 position groups (QB, RB, WR, TE, OT, iOL, DL, EDGE, ILB, CB, S) into (1) Will 100% definitely draft, (2) Will likely draft, and (3) Will likely not draft?

Alex: I’ll do my best. When you get into Day 3 and the later stages of the draft, it’s often not about need. If you’re drafting for need at that point, you’re in trouble. You’re trying to find value and talent and guys who you still have much higher grades on than anyone else available. But I’ll break it down for you.

100% Will Draft

Running Back
Center/Interior Offensive Line

Will Likely Draft

Offensive Tackle
Tight End
Safety/Slot CB (maybe that’s the same guy, maybe that’s two different people)

Will Likely Not Draft

Defensive Line
Long Snapper
Inside Linebacker

That still leaves a couple of positions that I don’t think I can put in any of those categories. Something closer to 50/50 I guess. Wouldn’t be shocked if it did happen, wouldn’t be shocked if it doesn’t.


Wide Receiver
Outside CB

ÄB: Hey Alex,

With all of the talks with Pittsburgh set on Harris, we just know the Dolphins or Jets will take him right before us (flashback to the William Jackson draft pick).

Is there any chance they even think about moving up to get him if there’s a fear of that? Or do they stay put and see who else would be available (if it happens).

Alex: Never say never but I think it’s unlikely. With so many other holes on the roster, trading up is going to be too costly. Maybe they could give up something from the 2022 lot, but trading up for a RB is a tough pill to swallow. Just drafting a RB at #24 is controversial enough. Especially since jumping a team like Miami is a decent leap. Would have to go up at least seven spots to #17.

According to this trade value chart (which I know teams aren’t beholden to), that’s over a 200 point swing. Which means giving up a third round pick (and future picks are valued less) and probably something else. That’s…a lot. I don’t think you can justify making that kind of move.

Alex Kuhn: How many backs in this draft would you say are better than our current RB room? I ask because if you can get a guy like Trey Sermon in the 3rd and still upgrade the room, then you’d be better doing that and then getting two quality players that upgrade other rooms (ie TE, OL, OLB)

Alex: I don’t have an exact number. But it’s probably not a small figure. I would say Najee Harris, Javonte Williams, Travis Etienne (even if I’m not crazy about his game), Trey Sermon, maybe even someone like Michael Carter of Kenneth Gainwell. But definitely the “big three” and Sermon would be clear upgrades.

SteelerFan08: Who is the more likely Tackle to keep their job this year over a draft pick: Chuks or Banner?

Alex: Definitely Banner. They didn’t pay him that solid chunk of money to sit on the bench or report eligible. Signing Haeg with his tackle-eligible experience is another indicator. Banner is starting. And both probably wind up as your Week 1 starters. But you can write Banner in with pen.


Alex, two part question.

Part 1 – Do you think JOK could play nickel, as in, pretty much take over most of Hilton’s responsibilities? If so, it would be sick to have him, Vince and Bush in the base defense and then Bush and JOK in dime.

Part 2 – You’re running the Steelers FO and putting together the draft board, what’s the order of the following names on it: Darrisaw, JOK, Harris, Samuels, Jenkins, Etienne, Farley and Humphries.

Thanks for your great work!

Alex: I’d have to really sit down and plan out how I could use JOK in this system. I think he can do some of what Hilton did. But it’s not 1:1. JOK isn’t a true, slot corner. He’s still a little too big, a little too stiff to do that full-time. He can be a great overhang defender, play in space, allow this team to stay in base and put JOK in basically every spot of the field. He gives you some of Hilton’s schematic flexibility, even if they’re not exact same skillsets overall.

To me, JOK would primarily be an inside linebacker, it’s important to give him a defined role, but I would of course take advantage of his skillset. And don’t tell me the guy is too undersized to do that. He weighed in at 6’1″, 221, with 33-inch arms. Devin Bush was 5’11”, 234 with 32-inch arms. Vince Williams came out at 6’0″, 233 with 31.5-inch arms. JOK is a little bit lighter, but he’s taller and longer.

Good question. In terms of pure grade, I would probably go:

1. JOK
2. Humphrey
3. Harris
4. Jenkins
5. Samuels
6. Etienne
7. Farley (probably off my board due to medical/no 2020 tape)

I just haven’t gotten a good enough evaluation on Darrisaw to list him here.

stan: I’m thinking the signing of Dobbs clearly closes the door on the possibility of drafting a QB. I was already leaning that way after they signed Haskins, but with Dobbs on board the team can’t even give meaningful reps to a prospect QB. What do you think?

Alex: That’s a fair stance, stan. I’ve gone back and forth. I think Dobbs is the perfect signing to push a guy like Dwayne Haskins. That was actually the subject of a recent Terrible Take of mine, talking about the need to find a #4 who wasn’t just a UDFA “camp arm” to push Haskins. I said:

“Perhaps the team could convince Josh Dobbs to re-sign for the minimum. He’s smart and a hard worker, the perfect foil and motivator to Haskins.”

So glad to see it happen.

But my argument for why they could draft a QB has been the fact there is no one under contract past this season. Not Ben, not Mason, not Haskins (he’ll be an RFA though), not Dobbs. I don’t know if the Steelers want to box themselves into that corner of going into 2022 having no idea not only who their starting QB will be, but who will even be in the room. I think they want to have some internal options in case Ben does retire, or Rudolph is drawing a hard bargain, or Haskins doesn’t pan out, or Dobbs says he’s going to another team/getting hired by NASA. So Dobbs doesn’t change that situation.

I know drafting another QB gives you five and makes things a mess. But you could, in theory, cut Dobbs after the draft, as bad of a look as that would be. Or you carry all five, that QB you drafted is basically redshirted (which is fine, there’s no reason to play him in 2021). And he becomes the #3 QB with Haskins going to the practice squad. I don’t know how it would play out. But teams generally don’t get too upset over having too many good options at QB. Usually it’s when they don’t have enough.

Long story short. I’m still not going to close the door on a fourth-round QB happening.


Hey Alex, us fans are often the ones who play the role of critic. Let’s flip it around and I’d like you to critique my mock draft from the same site as Kitchen used. Would you feel confident if we walked away with this as our 2021 draft class?

24- Zaven Collins LB 6-4 260 Brandt Ranking #20
55- Spencer Brown OT 6-8 315 Brandt Ranking #88
87- Trey Sermon RB 6-3 215 Not on Brandt top 100
128- Tre McKitty TE 6-4 247 Brandt Ranking #68
140- Patrick Jones OLB/Edge 6-4 264 Brandt Ranking #94
216- Ben Mason FB 6-2 246, 4.73-40, 37 vert, 29 bench reps, 6.96 3-cone
245- Rashad Wildgoose CB 5-11 4.41 40, 36 vert, 7.0 three cone
254- Tarron Jackson DE/Edge 6-2 254 4.68-40, 29 vert, 25 bench reps

Alex: I would. I like it. Brown still feels polarizing to me, not sure where I come in on his NFL projection, but I get where your head is at. And it “fits” well. But I like Collins, Sermon, McKitty, Jones, though I don’t know how/where Ben Mason fits with Derek Watt on the team. And Wildgoose and Jackson are good late-round fliers.

But yeah, I like it.

Robert Francis: What are your Center rankings among the prospects? Are there any slam dunk 10-year starters? I really like the idea of locking down that position with a high pick. Makes the whole line better instantly.

Alex: I don’t have a hard and fast ranking. But there are a lot of guys I like. Humphrey, Dickerson (assuming medicals are good, my typical caveat), Meinerz, and I still like Trey Hill, though I won’t have him in the second/third-round range like I did two months ago. Josh Myers, I’m a little less enthusiastic about. But I’m with you. Get that plug ‘n play center. This franchise’s history should be all the proof you need of the value there.

PaeperCup: Talent wise and potential production, how big of a gap is there between someone like Najee Harris(1st round) and say Trey Sermon (3rd or lower)

Alex: That’s hard for me to quantify. I don’t have exact grades I’ve come up with to really put a number to it. There is a gap, of course, especially just in how much more proven Harris has been over Sermon. Sometimes that can work against a RB, too much mileage on them, but I definitely like Harris more than I do Sermon. I don’t have a great way to specifically express that though.

I will say in terms of guys I feel can be every-down, feature backs, that list is pretty thin. Harris and Sermon make up that short list.

Mark P: Thanks for the work Alex. I see you put it at 50/50 that they take one, with no QB signed for 2022. Any guess on a round they might roll the dice on one?

Alex: Not in the first round. I think mid-rounds are the sweet spot. A late-round pick doesn’t make much sense. I could see them do it with one of those fourth round picks. I think a guy like Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman really fits. The guy isn’t ready, he needs a year at least, and the Steelers can afford him that time.

Guy Breton: Hi Alex. We are hearing some noise around the possibility of resigning Villanueva. How do you feel about it? For me it would be comical because if they want to improve the running game you don’t go back to a Pouncey-less OL.

Alex: Maybe it’s smoke but maybe it’s just John Clayton every two weeks just saying, “I think they should sign him.” Maybe it does happen, but I’m waiting for something more of substance. But I like Villanueva. Not a great, or good, run blocker, and I get your overall point. But I don’t think re-signing and starting Villanueva dooms your run game in 2021. Relatively speaking, your left tackle is probably your “least” important run blocker. Not to downplay it, but you want your best run blockers along the interior and RT. If you were ranking them, LT would be last.

And then there’s plenty else to change. Center, running back, and really, the scheme sucked too. That was as much a problem as it was personnel/talent last year (and really the last two years). So there’s a lot you can still fix. Now, if they re-sign Villanueva and don’t do much at center in the draft — then I’d be worried about them not making enough changes. But Banner is essentially a new RT, Dotson has a year under his belt, let’s assume they take a center in the top three rounds, they’ll have a new running back, a new head offensive line coach, a new assistant offensive line coach, a new offensive coordinator. That’s a lot of changes from 2020.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, the Steelers have selected a LB with their first round pick in 5 of that past 8 drafts. With the re-signing of VW it seems less likely that ILB would be the pick at #24. However, if Azeez Ojulari (whom I believe is both the best edge rusher AND best fit as a stand-up OLB) is still on the board, would it surprise you if he were the pick?

Alex: A little bit, yeah, just in terms of the need. But he’s a really impressive prospect who plays the run *extremely* well. So I would understand that from a standpoint of, “he is just too good to pass up and we were going to draft an EDGE relatively early anyway.” If Harris is off the board at #18, if JOK is gone, etc., then you could start heading into a different direction.

srdan: Are you a little surprised the Steelers are heading into the draft with this big of a hole at RB?

Alex: I’m not. That was the plan. They weren’t going to pay big money on the market for an older guy. The goal was to fill in the cracks at other positions (O-line, bringing back Vince at ILB) so they could be comfortable with a full speed ahead mission at RB early in this draft.


Three questions. First, will you lend your new lawnmower to the Heinz Field maintenance staff if they ask for it? Second, would you tell us about it if they do? And third, what do you think of CB/Safety Shaun Wade now that (a) we’ve learned he played through a vicious turf toe during the 2020 season, and (b) he put up good numbers at the delayed pro day earlier this week?

You’ve got my opinion on the third one already.

Alex: Ha, if they’re relying on my dinky Wal-Mart lawnmower, those players are in big trouble. You’ve honestly watched more of Wade than I have, so I’m looking forward to reading/sharing that one in a couple of days. I wonder how many teams will view him as a corner and how many may want him to move to safety.

Brian Tollini: Which day 3 edge guy do you find most intriguing? Also, how do you feel about Patrick Jones from Pitt?

Alex: Those Florida State EDGE rushers are interesting. Robinson and Kaindoh. Kaindoh is a physical freak and the better athlete of the two, but the production never came close to matching his ability. I like Jones. Good size, power, strong production the past two years. Looking at his numbers, four forced fumbles in 2019. That’s impressive.


Hey Alex,
Which (free) mock draft simulator do you prefer or do you find to be the most accurate? I was in the mood to do a few mocks yesterday, but there are a LOT of options online.

Assuming that we bring in someone else as our TE #2 (either Jesse or a draft pick), how do you see the TE #3 battle shaking out? I’d hate to waive Gentry after basically redshirting him for two years, but at this point, he may be behind Rader/Dax Raymond/Charles Jones.

Alex: I don’t use a lot of mock draft simulators, to be honest. I do them for my mock offseason and this Saturday, I’ll do a live mock draft (with hopefully 31 other GMs) on Walk The Mock. Tested out a draft last week and thought it worked well. But I have always used FanSpeak. You can choose your board from a list which helps you select what you think is the most realistic.

It might go to Rader. Best blocker + best special teamer of that group is a good combination.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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