Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your weekly Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag. As always, we’re answering whatever is on your mind for the next hour.

To your questions!

Fasterwilly: George Pickens was awesome last year but he sorta just made the same type of impressive contested catches over and over. What does a GP year 2 jump look like to you? Is Mike Williams the blueprint

Alex: I saw strides. Playing in the slot more, winning underneath, expanding his route tree. I didn’t follow Williams’ progression so I don’t know exactly what that looks like. But becoming a more nuanced route runner and being more versatile are two areas of his to look at.

stan: I’ve long advocated for the Steelers to join the rest of the NFL and only use two 53-man roster spots on quarterbacks, but with the new rules it seems like teams that are on the fence on that decision have an added incentive to keep 3. With that said, if the draft starts and Mason Rudolph is still unsigned, do you think he or the Steelers would be interested in him coming back to Pittsburgh on a minimum deal? Surely he’d be better than anyone we could get in the seventh round right?

Alex: Yes and no. They carry three but couldn’t use him in-game. There is no “emergency QB” carveout like there used to be. So there is no real incentive to carry three as opposed to two on the 53 or the practice squad outside of not being able to retain that #3 (like Mason Rudolph) or the off chance of losing a QB on the practice squad (though teams have the option to elevate that player if another club tries to poach).

Pittsburgh may want Rudolph back. I just can’t see him having any interest to return and clearly be third fiddle. There’s no reason for him to do that. He’d be better off waiting until a QB got hurt or something.

Brian Tollini: 

The sudden retirement of Stephon Tuitt is something I feel the Steelers D has yet to recover from and on top of that Cam Heyward will be 34 years old this season. If we were to lose him to injury (*knocks on wood) what would our d-line look like?

This is why I keep DL at the top of the list for needs and finding those guys the size of Tuitt/Heyward isn’t easy. I have yelled for Bresee enough, but do you feel right now it’s still a top need or less so?

Alex: I’m with you Brian. Pittsburgh isn’t totally unique in this but they’ve had trouble replacing some of their better players. Pouncey, Shazier, Tuitt. And good luck when it comes time to replacing Heyward. Could be chasing that for a long time.

Adding Fehoko and Watts are primarily run-situation, base defense guys. So I think they may look toward that 3T/pass rusher guy in the draft. But we’ll see. They definitely have a lot of interest there. I still find it important to have good and strong depth for fresh legs, rotations, and injuries.

Tony Hopkins: As we get closer to the end of free agency, I’ve noticed we have lost a lot of starters on our special-teams unit. Any idea how the new roster might shake out when it comes to replacing production from players like Derek Watt, Stephen Sims and Miles Boykin? Right now, this aspect of the game looks to have a lot of holes that could lead to some problems once the regular season kicks off.

Alex: Sure, it’s something I mentioned awhile back. They have lost guys there. And that includes the likes of Marcus Allen and Benny Snell, too. It’s a hidden issue. That can still be filled in post-draft, maybe bringing Boykin/Snell back, and some UDFAs and Futures guys who can fill in. Dan Chisena is a guy who fits in well, could replace Boykin. But it is something that can’t be overlooked.

WeWantDaTruth: Hi Alex. Interesting comments from Baldinger about JMS out of Minnesota. If he is there at 32, do you think the Steelers would seriously take him there? I feel that we’ve added some good bodies to the IOL and it’s not a big need. But do you go with the “BPA regardless of position mindset” here if he is indeed there at 32?

Alex: You’re referring to the comments Baldy made earlier today about drafting two offensive linemen? I have struggled with nothing more than the team’s pre-draft interest in the interior o-line even after signing Seumalo and Herbig and having Cole/Daniels. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to me but I certainly can’t discount it.

I never go straight BPA early. There’s always a value/need proposition to deal with. And that’s how Pittsburgh approaches things, too.


Who are you current top 5 favorite prospects? Not best, not even necessarily who you think/hope the Steelers will draft. Just your top 5 favorite players in this class.

(For what it’s worth, mine are 1. Mazi Smith 2. Karl Brooks 3. Devon Witherspoon 4. Olu Oluwatimi and 5. Nolan Smith)

Alex: Hmm…good question. I don’t know if I have an answer off the top but I’ll say.

Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez
Penn State C Juice Scruggs
Auburn EDGE Derick Hall
South Carolina CB Darius Rush
Georgia S Christopher Smith III
Wisconsin DL Keeanu Benton

I know that’s six but I couldn’t leave anyone off.

Peter-Petersen: How do you think about draft prospects whose performance/numbers dipped in their last college season?

Alex: It’s all case-by-case. Something to look at, something I often do note, but the reason and the influence can vary. Were they hurt? Did the system change? If they were a WR, did their QB situation get worse? Did they just not have a gaudy game against some low-level opponent that skewed numbers the year before? Did they play in fewer games? Did they still make an impact in big/bowl games? All things to consider when looking at stats.

Chad Prince: AK,
Are you a little surprised by the Steelers’ apparent lack of interest in Devon Witherspoon? They’ve shown interest in JPJ, Banks, Ringo, Gonzalez, Forbes, and Brents. Practically the who’s who of this draft class, but no mention of Witherspoon being connected to the Steelers. Seems odd considering some think he’s the best of the group.

Alex: A little bit. But Witherspoon is a different type. He isn’t the big/long press corner some of the others are (though guys like Banks don’t have great length). So I guess that’s the rub. They want the dude who looks like Patrick Peterson to…eventually replace Patrick Peterson. And Witherspoon doesn’t fit that mold.

It’s also been a little muddy since he was hurt for most of this pre-draft process. I don’t know for sure if they sent someone to his workout earlier this month. I don’t think they did but I can’t say that 100%.

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