Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. One week from today, we’ll be gearing up for the 2021 NFL Draft. And all our questions this draft season will begin to be answered.

For now, we’re here answering anything on your mind for the next hour.

To your questions!

PaeperCup: Hello Alex, if the Steelers had a top 10 pick this year, aside from the obvious QBs, who do you think the team would target?

Alex: Good question. Depends on where inside the top ten. But it would be hard to ignore one of the top tackles in such a really good class. Maybe someone like Slater (who also could move to center) or Christian Darrisaw.

zbluez1: Alex, IF both Najee and Etienne are off the board by 24, Does Leatherwood come back into the round 1 conversation IYHO ? Colbert/Tomlin attended that proday, was at one point ranked that high on the top 50 board, Josh Carney draft profile says maybe yes ?

Alex: It’s a fair question. I’m not sure what happens in that case. Even if Harris is off the board and Etienne is there, I’m not positive what direction they’d go in. Really depends on who else is there. Jenkins? Dickerson (maybe?). What top defenders have fallen? What about Creed Humphrey? But Leatherwood is sensible. Tough run blocker who can play guard or tackle. Obviously would begin in Pittsburgh at LT. Yeah, I think that’s at least a possibility, even if we’re not spending a lot of time talking about it now.

Nick Peters: Give me Harris or give me death! Is there any scenario that has them not doing this? Sometimes I’m skeptical about commitment to the run with Ben as the QB – but it seems they have tried to cobble together the other positions with FA signings to be all in for a return to STEELER football – thoughts?

Alex: For starters, if he’s not there. Even if he is, I’m not going to say it’s 100%. I think it’ll be the pick but I can’t write it in pen. We’re not in the room. We don’t know what’s in their heads. And I’ve been burned before thinking if a guy is there, he’s going to be the guy (Andrew Billings). So I don’t want to make any “no doubt” proclamations when we’re the outsiders.

PainIsOrange: Hey Alex, hope the new lawnmower is giving you everything your lawn needs lol. Do you think the Steelers would take a flyer in Isaiah Wilson or Bryce Love to compete for a spot? A kind of low risk high reward signing?

Alex: Ha, new mower is working well. Nah, I don’t see it for either guys. They definitely don’t shy away from taking a flier on a pedigree guy. But Wilson has gone AWOL and I don’t think it’s even worth trying. And Love’s medical is a wreck. Much better to go through the draft to address those spots.

Aeronius D. McCoy: Where do you think Sutton is best suited? Outside or as the nickel? Outside of a top corner falling in the 1st, it seems he’s destined to start outside opposite Haden, or is there any hope the Layne project could come to fruition in 2021?

Alex: I prefer him on the outside. Maybe doesn’t have ideal size but he’s not quite as physical enough or effective of a blitzer to hang full-time in the nickel. He can play there and his tackling/physicality has grown but I think I’d try him at RCB. Which is what the team seems to be planning. Now, will he stay on the outside in sub? Right now, he won’t. But we’ll reevaluate things after the draft.

DropTheHammer: If the Steelers cannot get a true Heir to Pouncey, would they be better off waiting until Round 4b or 6? If the idea is to get a ‘good enough for now’ stopgap, who you plan to upgrade in a future draft, how can we justify a Round 3 or 4a pick?

Alex: Maybe. it’s hard to answer those things in a vacuum. All depends on the board. And centers/interior linemen do tend to fall a little bit. Usually don’t see a lot of those guys go early, then the run starts mid Round 2 into Round 3.

But you still want depth, too. There aren’t a lot of guys on this roster who can play center. Finney, Hassenauer (who I don’t want starting/playing) and Dotson in a pinch, I guess. Maybe if you don’t get that Day 1 center, you find a more versatile center/guard in the third/fourth round so you have extra value there in the selection than just a pure-center.

Ravens Team Gynecologist : Alex, what player within in reasonable ability of being drafted at #24 do you think Steelers fans would complain the most about if selected?

Alex: Good question. I’m not really sure. Probably anyone on defense with us talking so much about the offensive needs. So if it were an Asante Samuel Jr. or JOK or Zaven Collins or… whoever on that side of the ball, there’s probably going to be an eye-roll for the ninth straight year of a defender taken in the first round.

Christopher Poknis: Hey Alex,
It’s looking line Harris rd1 if available. We also hear a few other guys as possibilities. But give us one name you think may be on the Steelers board that we may not be thinking

Alex: I like the mention of Leatherwood from earlier. That’s a guy who should at least be mentioning. And Teven Jenkins, based off the Pauline report. And if you want to flip to defense, than guys like Asante Samuel Jr. and Georgia’s Eric Stokes are dark horses (for whatever that’s worth).

James Cowan: 

Hi Alex,

As ever love the draft discussions.

Does Brandon Hunt go to pro days? I like the idea of him taking over from Colbert so am I reading too much into him not turning up on the pro day circuit.

Alex: He usually does, yes. And I imagine he was out there this year, unless there was a COVID/health issue. But I really didn’t see him much on the trail. One or two places and I don’t think I ever positively ID’d him at any one location. Which is unusual. But with masks and hats and sometimes sunglasses, it can be tough to be 100% sure of who any personnel member is.

Craig M: Talk about the draft is simply fill in of hope and wishes, verbal intercourse, since nobody has any real insight to what’s going to happen. I wonder more on your opinion on the contract extension for a HC who once stepped onto the filed of play to intentionally interfere w/ an opposing player, and the coach is on the Rules Committee/ (Ed Note: cutting off the rest of the post here, you get the idea)

Alex: I certainly have some criticisms of Tomlin. Definitely not to your extent and I could go through and debate/discuss all the things you’re writing here. I’ll just say I don’t believe Tomlin intentionally went on the field to trip Jacoby Jones. I don’t think I’m going to change your mind so I’ll leave it at that.

I think it’s fine to be critical of how the last 10 years have gone. It’s been disappointing. I wrote a long article about it the day after the Wild Card loss. Three playoff wins in 10 years with the rosters the Steelers have had is far below expectations. I tweeted out yesterday, and did one of my earlier Terrible Takes on the topic, the “never had a losing season” stat — while quirky — is a poor one overall in defense of Tomlin.

But I’m not going to be in the camp of “Tomlin is a bad coach/he should be fired” that you’re implying here. I do think he’s the right guy to be the face and leader as they transition out of the Ben/Colbert era. So I don’t think you’re getting the answer from me you’re hoping for.

Earl: Hey Alex.
I live over by Akron, we got a nice bit of snow yesterday, how about in your area?
QB…I don’t want them to select one this year, just want them to fill the holes and take one last shot at the Superbowl before Big Ben rides of into the sunset.
But the Steelers might have other ideas…Lawrence,Fields ,Wilson, Lance and Jones are long gone. Steelers take Harris at 24. Kyle Trask is there in the 2nd, do you take him? How about if he drops to the 3rd or 4th round…does he ever become a value to you over taking a Center/TE/Edge/OT/CB/ILB?
Also, who’s on your radar as a possible slot CB in the early rounds-2/3/4 and who’s on your radar in the 6th/7th round or a priority Free Agent?
Thanks, Have a nice draft. Earl

Alex: Hey Earl! Good to hear from you. Just a dusting here. It was pretty much gone by the time I got my morning going. Hope that’s the last of the snow until fall.

I wouldn’t draft a mid-round QB. The success rate is so low. Granted, you could say similar about first-round QBs, it’s 50/50, but the mid-round QB just sits. Do you trust the third/fourth round pick to be the franchise? Hand him the keys? Or do you start the process all over? He’s hard to develop because he’s not playing a lot. He’s in this perpetual state of limbo. We’ve seen that play out with Rudolph and Dobbs. So I would avoid it nine times out of 10. The Steelers have proven to feel differently.

As for slot corners, there’s a couple. Elijah Molden from Washington, Shaun Wade from Ohio State, and Ar’Darius Washington from TCU are the second-fourth options. Later in the draft I don’t have quite as good of a feel for. Michigan State’s Shakur Brown, who had a ballhawking 2020 season but tested poorly, and Oklahoma’s Tre Brown, who played on the outside in school but could slide inside in the NFL.

Guy Breton: Alex, if I remember well, after the 2019 season Art Rooney talked about improving the running game. They didn’t so after the 2020 season, he said the same thing. What do you think he will say after the 2021 season?

Alex: Hopefully he’ll be singing a different tune. Like I said in yesterday’s Take, they’ve done just about everything you can do to make next year’s run game look different. Hopefully better. We’ll see.

That’s all for this week. Be back next Thursday right before the draft.

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