NFL Draft

Quarterbacks On The Steelers And In The Draft

Well, it’s that time. Free agency has filled out the roster and we can now do a proper analysis of what the Steelers have and what they don’t. This link goes to my February article comparing QB prospects across the years. I will put updated tables down at the end of this article for convenience. Please note that:

  1. “Predraft grade” refers to Lance Zierlein’s score on each player as published at I rely on that stat because he is the only decently good evaluator I know of who gave neutral scores for all the years at issue.
  2. “NFL Result” is my personal grade on each player’s career, subject to comments received when the first article got published.

I include these tables because we are trying to look for connections between predraft grades and NFL results in order to build the case for the Highest Value (“HV”) grades on this year’s Steelers Big Board. The tables should (hopefully) aid us in that project by showing prospect-to-prospect comparisons both before and after they were drafted.


The Steelers traditionally go into training camp with four quarterbacks on the roster, and Kevin Colbert recently said they would do that in 2022 as well. The team now has four QB’s on the roster, but it’s still possible that they might bring in a rookie to challenge for that bottom-of-the-group spot.

  • Mason Rudolph. 6’4⅝”, 235 lbs. with 9⅛” hands. Predraft grade = 6.20. Picked at 3:76 in 2018.

Kevin Colbert famously said the team had a Round 1 grade on Rudolph, and believed he fell only because 2018 was a very strong year at this position (see the table below). Rudolph has very good size, toughness, an NFL average+ arm, NFL average accuracy, NFL average pocket presence, and by all accounts a very good work ethic and study habits. Critics emphasize that he is a very moderate athlete who possesses just enough mobility to do the essentials: roll out, escape the rush, and get the easy yards if a defense ignores him. He has progressed each year since he got drafted, but the sample size is just to small to draw any real conclusions about where he is now or what he might become.

I am in the school that believes Mason Rudolph has received a lot of undeserved fan-hate because of factors outside his control. He came in behind a fading legend who’d burst on the scene as a rookie, and then gone on to enjoy two dominant decades without a single losing season. Rudolph had exactly two options. He could either emulate Big Ben’s thrilling and instantaneous glory, or he could develop like a normal young QB and be scorned by the fans for his failure to beat out the aging HOF’er. He’s in the second camp, and that gets him scorned.

So… If Mason Rudolph isn’t a young Roethlisberger who’s about to take the league by storm, what is he? This year we may finally find out.

  • Mitch Trubisky. 6’2⅛”, 222 lbs. with 9⅝” hands. Predraft grade = 7.00. Picked at the very top (1:02) of the 2017 class.

Mitch Trubisky is an excellent, 85th percentile athlete with superior mobility, an NFL average arm, and mixed experience. As described below, he comes with a reputation for preferring to dink-and-dunk rather than to take the downfield shots, and for not being good enough at that game to carry a team on his back when other things go wrong. Trubisky has also endured repeated shoulder injuries that will bear watching.

The career of our new free agent followed a path from early glory down through disillusionment, with everything shadowed by the basic fact problem that Chicago paid an enormous price to pick him ahead of both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. He isn’t a Mahomes or Watson any more than Rudolph is a Roethlisberger, and getting overdrafted like that has been regularly held against him fans and pundits alike.

The Trubisky-led Chicago Bears of 2017-2020 were a team with a great defense and a very bad offense. Indeed, you can make some legitimate comparisons between that team and what we might have seen with the 2021 Steelers if they hadn’t lost five-sixths of the defensive line, and three-fifths of the already-young O-Line too. Trubisky became the starter in Game 5 of his rookie year, and played okay. Then the head coach who drafted him (John Fox) got fired in favor of K.C.’s offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.

The Bears improved all the way up to 12-4 in 2018, and were favored going into the playoffs. They were ousted by the eventual-champions (the Eagles) in a hard fought contest where the difference proved to be a missed 2-point conversion and a blocked field goal on the final play. That season was Trubisky’s high point, and included a Pro Bowl appearance. Things went downhill from there. 2019 turned into a giant meh, with a very average 3,100 passing yards, an average ratio of 17 TD’s to 10 INT’s, and just shy of 200 rushing yards when things broke down. Chicago reacted by bringing in the wily veteran Nick Foles, and declining Trubisky’s 5th year option. Trubisky won the 2020 starting job, but then lost it in Week 3 as the dink-and-dunk, mediocre play continued. And that was about it. He went off to Buffalo for 2021, where he basically hid as the Foles-and-Nagy led Bears proved to be even worse without him.

The verdict on Trubisky’s career to date may be summarized as follows: He’s the sort of QB won’t be the reason for a loss, but won’t carry the team to victory either. His playing style has been described with terms like “dink and dunk plus running,” though one wonders how much of that has to do with the offensive talent around him in Chicago.

Interesting fact: Pittsburgh’s prize free agent on the O-Line, James Daniels, came into the league as a Round 2 pick for Trubisky’s Chicago Bears during the QB’s Pro Bowl season.

  • Dwayne Haskins. 6’3⅜”, 231 lbs. with 9⅝” hands. Predraft grade = 6.70. Picked at 1:15 of the 2019 class.

The draft descriptions were remarkably consistent: Haskins was a decent and likeable young man with a reputation for being immature, and having lackadaisical study habits with a badly underdeveloped football IQ. All of that would have meant a Day 3 grade, but for high level success at a premier program (Ohio State), a Heisman-finalist pedigree, and arm talent so special that Ben Roethlisberger later said, he could throw it through a car wash [and] it wouldn’t get wet. In other words, Haskins was a classic example of the boom-or-bust stereotype who really needs 1-3 years of quiet, behind the scenes study in order to grow up and to learn the NFL game. I am halfway ashamed of myself for failing to make the analogy to one Terry Braxton Bradshaw, who faced many of the same issues when he got drafted in 1970.

Bradshaw did not come to the NFL as an fully grown, ready-to-lead prospect. Quite the opposite. He had a monstrous arm but, like Haskins, suffered from personal immaturity and a lack of understanding about how the professional game was played. Drafted at #1 overall, he endeared himself to no one by moaning about how much he preferred his native bayou to the depressing Steel City of the 1970’s. And oh, did the fans make him suffer! He struggled through what would nowadays be his entire rookie contract, even getting benched in Year 4 in favor of Joe Gilliam. The criticism got so ferocious that Bradshaw was rumored to be actually frightened about showing his face in public after a loss. But the coach kept pushing him; the team’s legendary defense was able to carry him; and eventually Terry “got it.”

Haskins also got picked in the early-1st, and by an equally bad team. But he didn’t get dragged across the country. Washington D.C. was his home town; a fact that only added to the pressure, because the fans expected him to return that dysfunctional franchise to glory. He played his rookie year behind the hapless Case Keenum, seeing spot duty when Keenum got hurt or benched. He didn’t look good, but then no one expected him to, and the arm talent was obviously real.

Haskins became the starter in 2020 (his Year 2), and the wheels promptly fell off in four different directions, like a clown car flopping to earth in the center ring. His play was awful, but the finale came after Haskins, with a season-threatening pandemic raging across the nation, went to his girlfriend’s very large and public birthday party without wearing a mask. Everyone – even the Washington loyalists – saw this as a heedless, self-centered betrayal of his teammates. And it went downhill even from there! A deluge of bad reports followed close on the heals of party-gate, highlighted by rumors about his continuing immaturity in other areas, unearned arrogance in the locker room, a low football IQ that wasn’t improving, and a lack of both discipline and study habits. Plus a historically bad 36.9 passer rating.

Bust city.

Haskins’ coach, the very well respected Ron Rivera, released him in midseason. It should be emphasized that Rivera had very nice things to say about Haskins as a human being, and so did his former teammates. This wasn’t a Ryan Leaf, who alienated teammates with his temper tantrums. Haskins was just a very, very young man who’d failed so badly that he no longer had a path to success even on his home town team.

The Steelers picked him up off the scrap heap in 2021 and hid him away all year as an inactive, 3rd-string Quarterback. Could Mike Tomlin work some magic where even Ron Rivera could not? Could he teach the boy-child how to be a man? Harness the gigantic talent into a usable form for the modern NFL? Would the Steelers’ famous locker room and culture be enough to solve that many ills? It was a very big ask, and we have no way of knowing how much progress Haskins has made. The only sign is a good one, however small; the team recently tagged him with an original round tender at the cost of $2.54 Million.

Like Mason Rudolph, Haskins is a very moderate athlete with good size and barely enough mobility to meet the basic, minimum requirements of the modern game.

  • Josh Dobbs. 6’3″, 210 lbs. with 9¼” hands. Predraft grade = 5.80. Picked at 4:135 in 2017, several rounds behind Trubisky.

If he doesn’t move on from football to pursue rocket science, Josh Dobbs is likely to end up as a coach for life. Reports say that even a 20-year veteran like Ben Roethlisberger made a point of asking to have Dobbs around the sideline on game day to help with quick film study and to bounce around ideas on how to attack what the defense was doing. Fans may be surprised to learn that Josh Dobbs isn’t just a good athlete; he’s a phenomenal athlete who earned a 96th percentile athletic rating that would have been even higher if he’d packed on a few more pounds for his pro day. Dobbs has it all: mobility, durability, character, intelligence, experience, and even arm strength – except for the accuracy to consistently make the hard throws into NFL-tight windows. And that’s been his unconquerable Sisyphean Stone.

We’ve hoped that Dobbs could build that accuracy a la Josh Allen, but it just hasn’t happened. Alas. NOTE: Dobbs has now been around long enough to be considered a veteran who cannot be kept for a truly insignificant amount. Salary cap concerns may favor a low cost camp arm.


Over the next few months you’re going to hear Coach Tomlin repeat the same old line in one form or another: “It’s an open competition and the best man is going to win.” Some will poo poo that, but I do not. Tomlin and Colbert, have an abiding faith in the power of competition to make professional athletes better. It is one of the most consistent threads that ties his coaching career together. And you know what? I share their faith. Which is why I will go out on a limb and say something important: The man who starts for the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers won’t be the same player that I described up above. He’s going to be that much better.


  • No one but Ben Roethlisberger has ever beaten out Mason Rudolph for a starting job, and I think we can all agree they were not fighting on a level playing field (the one exception to Tomlin’s “everyone needs to compete” mantra).

Most of us would grade the 2021 Mason Rudolph as a proven NFL backup who “gets it” as much as his limited field experience allows. Does anyone really believe he will just roll over and surrender the starting job in 2022? Of course not! No one has ever denied his work ethic, study habits, or desire to win. Just whether he has the native talent required to build on top of those intangibles. Take it to the bank: Mason Rudolph will fight like hell for this job now that Big Ben has retired, and the coaches will see a better QB by the end of camp than the 5-4-1 starter we’ve seen to date. The only question is whether that will be good enough to win the job.

  • Mitch Trubisky got scr#wed out of his starting role in Chicago by a combination of terrible coaching, a recurring shoulder injury, and his own failure to grow from being a QB who sees the safe throw into one who also understands where there’s a chance to win on the big one. He’s now spent a year backing up a QB who overcame many of the same issues, and has been the first to say “You’ve gotta go out and earn it.”

So yes, he’s going to be better too. And his particular array of natural athletic talents looks like an ideal fit to what we know about Matt Canada’s offensive scheme.

  • Dwayne Haskins is the ultimate wild card. That cannon attached to his shoulder gives him a genuine chance to be NFL-special, just like Bradshaw’s, but only if the neck-up part can follow in Bradshaw’s footsteps too.

It’s a longshot, yes, but I’ve seen worse ones come home. Haskins’ first real challenge lay in proving that he wasn’t just the spoiled and lazy man child who ran himself out of his own home town. Paxton Lynch was a similar case; a former Round 1 talent who came to the Steelers as a reclamation project. Lynch kept right on going, slipping out of the league after he failed here in the same way that he did back in Denver. Haskins, however, did not just fade away. The team paid his some pretty good money to stick around and keep trying.

  • Josh Dobbs… [sigh]. Okay, I’ll grant you this one, with a good deal of grudging resentment because I genuinely admire the young man’s assets. Dobbs may make all the others better, but it’s a little hard to see him finding NFL success at this late date. He’s like that minor league pitcher with a hot fastball and good action on his curve, who can’t stop filling the bases on walks. I feel for him. Control was my great bane as well, back before I blew my shoulder to kingdom come with thoroughly professional finality.

It won’t upset me in the slightest to head into 2022 with those four fighting for the starting job. May the best man win, because he’s going to be a bridge QB worth reckoning with.

Will that winner mature into our much-desired Heir To The Throne? Probably not. Not unless Haskins can grow the F up and find his inner Bradshaw. But I truly believe that the man who comes out on top will be good enough to ride the coattails of Pittsburgh’s defense well into the playoffs, and maybe even more. I worry about the QB, but I worry even more about team health at the end of the year.


Next question. Is The Man lurking in the NFL draft? I doubt it. My personal board has the whole top tier of this year’s class graded as fringe-1st to early-3rd talents. OTOH, that’s not exactly an insult! Round 2 grades are pretty darned special. So let’s have a look, with the understanding that my personal grades are a bit lower than what you’ll see below, since I am try to have the Board reflect a consensus view rather than mine alone.

As always your comments are not just welcome, but actively requested. I only ask you to keep the underlying rules in mind. We never, ever, promote a prospect’s draft grade because of team need! That happens on all the mock draft sites because they assume that teams will panic into self-delusion. That’s what we are trying to avoid. We are trying to fix an “all years” grade instead – that is the base HV (“Highest Value”), which then gets adjusted down to reflect a lack of need. No downward adjustment will be required this year, of course, at least for the QB position. It’s also understood that sometimes a reach makes sense. Our victory will come if the Board is able to tell us which player to prefer at any particular time in the draft, comparing across positions.

1:25 QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati. (RS Junior). 6’3⅜”, 211 lbs. with big 10” hands. [Mtg. at Senior Bowl, Combine] A prospect in the same general school as Marcus Mariota, Deshaun Watson, Colin Kaepernick, and Josh Dobbs as seen from the POV of both the main assets (a proven leader, winner, and character pick with fine, but secondary, mobility) and the drawbacks (a big but troublingly erratic arm). Ridder has four years of starting experience, led his little known program into the Final Four, tested as a great overall athlete (top 5% of the NFL), and would be a fine young man to be the face of your franchise. The bywords coming out of the Combine were “mature,” “impressive,” “intelligent,” and “the sort of young man you want your daughter to marry.” Jonathan Heitritter’s careful, gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with a fringe-1st grade for a player with large amounts of all the assets, but a significant need to refine them enough to make it in the pro game. Erratic passing accuracy raised eyebrows at the Senior Bowl, because he has good mechanics, but makes throws that vary from pinpoint accuracy to buried in the dirt with no apparent reason for the disparity. As this nice little March scouting profile puts it, “It is maddening to watch Ridder play sometimes because he misses some of the easiest throws you’ll ever see. It makes very little sense considering how solid his overall throwing mechanics are. It feels like he lets emotions take over at times, resulting in throws that are not consistent with the player he is on a majority of snaps.” Lance Zierlein’s scouting profile writes, “He’s intelligent and processes quickly, [but] despite favorable mechanics, his accuracy and ball placement need work… He can run but is more of a pocket passer who can win with his legs than a true dual-threat quarterback.” Here is a good looking scouting profile from January. This February scouting profile ends with a Round 3 grade due to concerns about accuracy and pocket awareness. This goes to a page with twin scouting profiles, the first being an early-2nd grade and the other a 3rd, again with notes on the need for better pocket awareness and more consistent accuracy.
1:25 QB Malik Willis, Liberty. (RS Junior). 6’0½”, 219 lbs. with 9½” hands. [Mtgs. at Senior Bowl, Combine]. In recent drafts we have seen 4-5 QB’s per year come out who have Top-10 natural talent, many of whom fell in the draft by as much as 3-4 rounds due to football IQ or off-field question marks. Willis is the only QB in this year’s draft with that kind of natural talent, but he also has so many question marks that he will require an absolute minimum of one, and probably three redshirt years before he can even be evaluated on an NFL scale. Needless to say, the Pittsburgh Steelers would not spend a Round 1 pick on a different QB while that evaluation continues. Our task is to assign a value to someone with that many delays and unknowns. The question marks begin with Willis losing his starting job at Auburn in 2019 to a true Freshman, and then coming out of the transfer portal at Liberty’s insignificant program. There he earned praise for his leadership, but also built the reputation of a QB who can be rattled, cannot read opposing defenses, and could not produce results despite his personally awesome flashes.The pre-draft process has shown him to be extremely intelligent, thoughtful, well spoken, and fundamentally decent as a human being. The scouting profile starts by touting the “rare combination of elite rushing talent and a rocket-launching right arm.” Then it goes on to describe “[a distinct] lack of touch;… [erratic] ball placement [that] causes stride breaks and adjustments for wideouts;… [accuracy that] plummets when scrambling;… below average [pocket presence];… poor field recognition and progression quickness;” and other concerns. Eek. But that physical talent cannot be denied, and thus he’s still in the conversation. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported scouting report compares Willis’ physical skill set to someone like Jalen Hurts (picked at 2:53), with a developmental level well below what the very raw, and even more gifted Lamar Jackson showed when he came out of Louisville (picked at 1:31). This goes to Jonathan’s follow-up interview at the Senior Bowl. The pure upside earned Willis a #32 ranking on Daniel Jeremiah’s pre-Combine board and #35-40 for Lance Zierlein. Showed a huge but somewhat inaccurate arm at the Combine, but it might be the sort of inaccuracy that can be cured with a few years of focused work to rebuild his footwork and fundamentals.
2:01 QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss. (RS Junior). 6’1½”, 212 lbs. with 9⅝” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] A master of the college RPO game, with exceptional athletic skill, a very fine arm, and an amazing ability to scurry around, extending plays until something breaks down. Could be a great one if he can hold up to the physical and mental pounding. Has been open about his teenage fights with clinical depression and his support for mental health care. Gets points for playing in his bowl game at the cost of a high ankle sprain that set his draft prep back. Jonathan Heitritter’s long, gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with a Round 2 grade that offsets “moments of greatness” against a distinct lack of size for this “quintessential gunslinger” who reminds JH of the on-field, college version of Johnny Manziel. The upstairs part will make all the difference for Corral. The top QB by a hair for the scouting profiles, which praises his significant leap from being a boom-or-bust interception machine to a “quicker processor and better decision-maker in 2021.” An AFC scouting director is quoted as saying: “He doesn’t have the physical advantages that Pickett or Willis have but he’s a better pure quarterback than either of them.”
2:01 QB Sam Howell, N. Carolina. (RS Senior). 6’1½”, 212 lbs. with 9⅝” hands. [Mtgs. on campus with Colbert, at Senior Bowl, at Combine]. Howell looked like the Next Big Thing after a monster 2020 year when his offense featured two great RB’s and two very accomplished WR’s. All four of those weapons got drafted, leaving him with not very much in 2021, plus an offensive line he couldn’t trust. It showed. The highlight reel passes faded away, his decision making looked more erratic, and he was forced to be a dual threat runner (which he did). Kevin Colbert visited UNC several times during 2021, which surely indicates some serious interest. No one doubts that Colbert came away impressed. The question is, how impressed? Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported scouting report shows one film expert who was impressed enough to question whether Howell will be “only” a Baker Mayfield, or rise to be a Russell Wilson. Translate that as, “potential franchise QB with a long way to go before he gets there.” Lance Zierlein’s scouting profile indicates a film watcher who is much less impressed, and ends with a Round 3 grade.
2:12 QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh. (RS Senior). 6’3¼”, 217 lbs. with historically small 8½” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] Will be a 24 year old rookie. For heaven’s sake: he broke Dan Friggin’ Marino’s college passing records, and he has good enough size and running ability to make a team pay if they forget about that part of his game. His records didn’t come the easy way, either. Like Mac Jones in last year’s draft, he lacks the unearthly physical talent that has headlined recent drafts, and has had to build his college success on being more smart, accurate, and professional than his peers. Earns a small discount on this board because he projects as a high floor type of pick rather than the high-ceiling, potential franchise QB that we believe Pittsburgh is looking for. Daniel Kitchen’s gif-supported Depot scouting report has a summary that many reviewers would agree with: “It’s hard to imagine him reaching the highest tier of quarterbacks in the NFL, but there is room for him to be one of the better passers in the game and an above-average quarterback in the right offense.”
3:01 QB Carson Strong, Nevada. (RS Senior). 6’3⅜”, 226 lbs. with 9⅛” hands. [Mtg. at Senior Bowl] A divisive prospect because people look and see conflicting stereotypes. The first is, “classic pocket passer with a huge arm, a great deep ball, and no mobility.” That was certainly true in 2020 and 2021, partly because of the next stereotype: “Too bad he’s broken.” Both years ended with surgeries to repair a knee issue that has nagged him all through college. OTOH, reliable sources suggest that the knee may finally be healing up. Does that lower the red flag? If so, we get to stereotype #4: “Mr. Comeback;” a/k/a that Clutch Performer gene your author values above all else. Inside information from a Depot reader suggests that the knee may be “Joe Namath bad.” That would end the debate. Our own Dr. Mel explained the medical concerns in this article, which will be far better and more reliable than any source that isn’t barred from discussing the case by HIPAA regulations. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a fringe-1st “eventual starter” grade and a comparison to Matt Ryan.
4:01 QB Jack Coan, Notre Dame. (Senior). 6’3¼”, 218 lbs. with 9½” hands. A developmental pocket passer with minimal but acceptable mobility, who’s won starting jobs at both Wisconsin (losing it to Graham Mertz) and Notre Dame. A very tough young man who is reported to be a good leader. The general verdict seems to be moderate floor and moderate ceiling. See, e.g., the concluding quote from an NFC personnel executive in the scouting profile: “He was better once he got away from Wisconsin’s passing game, but I don’t see anything more than a backup at best.”
4:01 QB Bailey Zappe, W. Kentucky. (RS Senior). 6’0½”, 215 lbs. with 9¾” hands. A master of the college RPO game, with exceptional athletic skill, a very fine arm, and tremendous accuracy. Would rank that much higher if he was several inches taller and a few dozen pounds sturdier, but how important is that to the modern game?
5:01 QB Kaleb Eleby, W. Michigan. (RS Sophomore). 6’0¾”, 210 lbs. with 9¼” hands. Definitely draftable on the basis of arm talent as good as anyone in the class, but his grade is held back by moderate grades for both size and mobility, without many top opponents to use for measuring his skills. Accuracy did not look good during the Combine drills.
6:01 QB Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M. (RS Senior). 6’4”, 215 lbs. with small 8⅞” hands. He certainly looks the part, with room to add more mass. And he’s got the tools, with an NFL-good arm, very good mobility, and accuracy that ranges from solid to streaky according to this NFL Draft Buzz scouting profile. but it is hard to fathom how big a step up he’ll be taking when he goes against an NFL defense. Imagine the kid who hit .850 in H.S., and then .400 in single-A ball. What’s he going to hit when you drop him into the majors? Answer: who knows? You’re betting on pure potential with this one. Here is another simple scouting profile from February. This goes to a somewhat better scouting profile that points out Glass’s frankly erratic lower body mechanics, which are either (a) enough to make NFL success impossible, or (b) an area he could improve with coaching to obtain fabulous benefits. Take your pick, lol.
7:01 QB E.J. Perry, Brown. (Senior). 6’1⅝”, 211 lbs. with small 8¾” hands. Think Ivy League Taysom Hill and you’ll have a decent summary. Won the Shrine Bowl MVP.
7:16 QB D’Eriq King, Miami. (RS Senior). 5’8¾”, 196 lbs. with 9¼” hands. Will be a 25 year old rookie. NOTE: grade will change if he switches positions. He’d be on the small side for a WR. For a QB? It just isn’t viable. OTOH, he has the sort of eye popping athleticism to be a sensational receiver, return specialist, or running back. Just a special, special athlete. An ACL tear in the 2020 bowl game prevented him from entering that draft.


Colbert and Tomlin’s successful wooing of Mitch Trubisky has guaranteed competition in the QB room for 2022. The Steelers can now afford to pass on a QB if they want to; to grab a QB in Round 1 if they grade someone especially high; to snatch a bargain if someone falls toward being a draft day steal; or to invest in a boom-or-bust type later on in the class. BPA is the name of the day. We – as in you and I – face the relatively simple task of defining when each of these prospects “should” be picked, so that we can play along and start to root when the right opportunity arises.

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