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Updated: 4 min 54 sec ago

The Steelers’ fan base is shockingly optimistic about the 2021 draft class

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 12:30pm
Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation polled Steelers fans and wanted to know their thoughts on the 2021 draft class, and they were shockingly kind.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base is not just global, they are a rabid bunch. They are the ones who are always proclaiming the number of Super Bowl championships their favorite team has accumulated over the years, and the Super Bowl drought the team finds themselves in is one which can put fans in a bit of a lull.

When you grow up watching Steelers teams hoist Lombardi trophies, and then experience the pain and agony of wasted years, it can make even the most optimistic fans feel jaded and sour.

Just check through the comments here at this beloved establishment and you’ll see someone being critical of the team, even if the article was about the Steelers players going to a local children’s hospital.

It isn’t pretty, but it is the reality of the Steelers fan base.

With that said, when SB Nation sent out a poll asking fans for their grade on the 2021 NFL Draft class, I was stunned at the results. When I opened the email, I was fully expecting a grade of a C, with plenty offering a D or F. Instead, I saw something different.

Check out the results:

Is the Steelers fan base becoming, dare I say, optimistic? I shudder at the thought, but it was good to see fans see not just the first round pick of Najee Harris as the only pick to be excited for, but several picks have the chance of being extremely promising for 2021 and beyond.

When I saw the results of the SB Nation Reacts, it made me wonder if the readers here at SB Nation also agreed with the aforementioned poll results. So, I will put it to you. Let us know what grade you give the Steelers 2021 NFL Draft class in the poll below. In case you forget all nine players, here they are below:

Round 1: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Round 2: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Round 3: Kendrick Green, C/G, Illinois
Round 4: Dan Moore Jr, OT, Texas A&M
Round 4: Buddy Johnson, ILB, Texas A&M
Round 5: Isaiahh Loudermilk, DT, Wisconsin
Round 6: Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
Round 7: Tre Norwood, CB/S, Oklahoma
Round 7: Pressley Harvin II, P, Georgia Tech

Okay, now is your time to give your grade to the aforementioned draft class. Vote in the poll below, and be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

The Steelers may have found this year's James Pierre in Shakur Brown

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 11:30am
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The undrafted defensive back could be a player who has a shot at making the 53-man roster in 2021.

The 2020 undrafted free agent signings for the Steelers seemed as if it would be yet another weak year of signings for the team. However, others here at BTSC told me to keep an eye on this guy named James Pierre, a player who had not impressed me during the pre-draft process. I had snubbed him from my top 300 rankings and assumed that he would be released before the season began.

Looking at it one year later, I could not have been more wrong. Pierre’s playing time increased as the season progressed and players got injured, and by season’s end, he had seemed to have passed Justin Layne, a player that I was very high on coming out of college, on the depth chart. With Mike Hilton signing with Cincinnati and the Steelers choosing to release Steven Nelson, Pierre seems to be the leader in the clubhouse for the number three cornerback job.

Just one year after the Steelers found a steal in James Pierre, they may have found another undrafted gem at the same position. I was shocked, and somewhat disappointed, when the Steelers passed on Shaun Wade in the fourth round, but the most surprising thing was that the Steelers chose not to address the position until the seventh round when they selected Tre Norwood, who may be better suited as a safety. However, this situation may open the door for Shakur Brown.

Brown is an experienced cornerback who is savvy in zone coverage. He lacks ideal size and speed, but his high IQ and fantastic ball skills often overcome his deficiencies as an athlete. There is no denying that he will struggle if he is put on an island against a speedy receiver, but his excellent read-and-react ability makes him a perfect fit in a zone-heavy scheme. In just seven games in 2020, Brown recorded five interceptions and four passes defended. The video below shows each of his five interceptions this past season.

At 0:12, he displayed his ability to track the ball downfield and make a play on the overthrown ball. It looks as if the receiver is going to run something similar to a fade route, but the ball is thrown too long and to the inside. Brown capitalizes and picks the ball off. At 0:36, Brown is in zone and sees the receiver running a slant toward the middle of the field. Unfortunately for Indiana, quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. gave Brown too much time to break on the ball and make a play. Brown saw where Penix wanted to go, and he displayed those excellent read-and-react skills and came away with the interception.

Below is a video of the Michigan State defense against the Michigan offense. There are times where his lack of size and speed are evident, but two of his four passes defended in the 2020 season came in this game. At 5:47, Brown (#29) is in position to intercept a pass, but his 5’10” frame combined with a poor jump kept him from picking the ball off. However, at 10:03, Michigan quarterback Joe Milton did not make a great decision with the ball. He was targeting Giles Jackson on the play, but the safety was ready and waiting for Jackson. Milton tried to throw a line-drive pass to get it to him before the safety closed on the ball, but it was low enough for Brown to make a play. It was a poor decision to throw it in that direction in the first place, but nonetheless, Shakur had a better jump on this one and was able to deflect the pass.

As a tackler, he did a good job of lowering his pads and making a couple crucial tackles. His only mistake was in the 4th quarter when he was unable to wrap up Michigan receiver Cornelius Johnson. Brown took a poor angle, and Johnson was able to pull away for an additional ten yards. Putting that aside, Brown’s overall performance was solid in Michigan State’s 27-24 victory against their archrival. You can check it out below.

The thing that stands out to me is that his athletic profile has some similarities to James Pierre. At the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Pierre ran a 4.59 in the 40, had a 33.5 inch vertical, and recorded a 7.02 in the 3-cone drill. There was no combine for Brown to participate in, but at Michigan State’s pro day, he recorded a 4.61 40, a 35.5 inch vertical, and a 7.08 3-cone drill. Pierre is 6’0” while Brown is about 5’10”, but they are both around 185 pounds. At the end of the day, Pierre might be an inch or two taller, but Brown has a little more production. Pierre may be slightly faster than Brown, but there is little difference between the two in that aspect.

James Pierre has the versatility to play inside or outside while Brown will likely be limited to the slot, but they play similar styles and have similar traits. Only time will tell as to whether or not these two prospects can become productive players, but if the Steelers are going to stick with their zone-heavy scheme, both Shakur Brown and James Pierre will have a chance to carve out nice careers in the Steel City.

Podcast: How rolling with Najee will turn the Steelers’ tide

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 11:00am

BTSC breaks down what the Steelers’ draft needs from specific universities before the NFL Draft

Before the 2021 NFL Draft, BTSC welcomed correspondents from NCAA programs who cover players with ties to the Steelers. Now that the Steelers have nine new players, it’s time to get perspective on each from Bama, PSU, Illinois, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Miami (Fla,), Temple, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech on “The Curtain Call”. This week, join Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict as they welcome Charlie Potter, beat writer for Bama Online 24/7 and Roger Patrick Myers of Roll Bama Roll to talk about Najee Harris from a Crimson Tide perspective.

  • News and Notes
  • Special Guests: Charlie Potter, beat writer for Bama Online 24/7 and Roger Patrick Myers from Roll Bama Roll
  • and MUCH MORE!

Michael and Geoffrey walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Predicting the Steelers’ 2021 53-man roster: Post NFL Draft

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the conclusion of the 2021 NFL draft, it’s time to make our way-too-early predictions for the Steelers 53-man roster.

The kickoff to the 2021 NFL preseason is just about three months away. While numerous things can happen between now and then, it’s time to give our way-too-early predictions for the Steelers 53-man roster to begin the 2021 season. With no players actually setting foot on the field, it’s difficult to project who the bottom of the roster players will be. Regardless, BTSC co-editors Dave Scofield and Jeff Hartman will give their input onto their thoughts of who will make the roster come September.

Just like in 2020, it is still a 53-man roster. While last year some believed the roster was actually increased to 55 players, it was the possible elevation of two practice squad players who were eligible to move up to the roster each week without displacing any other players which had caused some confusion. Not that we’ve had a year to get used to it, hopefully there is no need to explain why it is a 53-man roster.

As always, we welcome you to join the conversation in our comment section below this article. Let your voice be heard and join in the black-and-gold conversation!

Offense

Quarterback (3)

Dave: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs

Analysis: People may be shocked that I left Haskins off the list, but I’m not moving him in until I see what he can do in black and gold.

Jeff: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins

Analysis: The Steelers might have taken a flier on Haskins, but he also could represent the future of the position. No one thinks Dobbs is the future of the position for the Steelers, in fact, it really comes down to Rudolph and Haskins for that role, who are currently on the roster. Therefore, I see Dobbs as nothing but an insurance policy for training camp/preseason play in case Haskins stinks up the joint.

Running Back (4)

Dave: Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels

Analysis: For some reason I just feel like Samuels gets another shot with Canada and Ballage ends up being the odd man out.

Jeff: Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels

Analysis: Does anyone thing Ballage will actually make the team? I don’t.

Fullback (1)

Dave: Derek Watt

Analysis: Move along… nothing to see here.

Jeff: Derek Watt

Analysis: What he said...

Wide Receiver (5)

Dave: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud

Analysis: They rode with these five last year, and they’re all back for 2021. Roll it again.

Jeff: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Dionate Johnson, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud

Analysis: Barring an injury, this is their crew in 2021.

Tight End (3)

Dave: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Kevin Rader

Analysis: For some reason I really like Rader special teams contributions. If they keep a third tight end, I think it’s him.

Jeff: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry

Analysis: Gentry missed the vast majority of last season with a knee injury, but he was a drafted player. For that reason, and that reason alone, I give him the nod over Rader.

Offensive Line (9)

Dave: David DeCastro, Zach Banner, Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, B.J. Finney, Kendrick Green, Joe Haeg, Dan Moore Jr, Rashaad Coward

Analysis: The only real questions come at the bottom of the list. I like the potential of Coward at guard more than Hassenauer and I don’t know that the Steelers need three centers.

Jeff: David DeCastro, Zach Banner, Chuks Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, B.J. Finney, Kendrick Green, Joe Haeg, Dan Moore, J.C. Hassenauer

Analysis: The drafting of Green gives the Steelers some depth on the interior of the offensive line, and I just don’t see Rashaad Coward sticking around.

Total Offense: 25 Defense

Defensive Line (6)

Dave: Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiahh Loudermilk

Analysis: As much as I’d like to leave Loudermilk out, the Steelers aren’t going to trade up for him just to cut him. Davis showed a lot last year, so I think it’s Buggs and Mondeaux that get pushed out. They could keep one more and cut a position somewhere else.

Jeff: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiahh Loudermilk

Analysis: I agree with Dave here, but I think they find a way to keep Buggs, I just haven’t figured out where I would create that roster spot this early in the game.

Outside Linebacker (4)

Dave: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Quincy Roche, Cassius Marsh

Analysis: I was really tempted to write TBD in the fourth spot, but I guess Marsh can stick around with the special teams contributions. If someone else comes along who is capable of taking the field, they move into that spot.

Jeff: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Quincy Roche, Cassius Marsh

Analysis: The only thing I would add here is an asterisk for a player to be added, because I think they will add a pass rusher before the start of training camp.

Inside Linebacker (5)

Dave: Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson, Ulysees Gilbert III

Analysis: I really feel it comes down to UG3 and Marcus Allen for the final linebacker spot as they will keep an extra one since they seem to be thin on the outside.

Jeff: Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Vince Williams, Buddy Johnson, Ulysees Gilbert III

Analysis: The roster spot I spoke of along the defensive line could come from cutting ties with UG3. The kid just can’t stay healthy, but if he can he brings an athleticism to the inside linebacker position which could be useful.

Cornerback (5)

Dave: Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne, Shakur Brown

Analysis: Why not keep another UDFA to round out the group?

Jeff: Joe Haden, Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne, Shakur Brown

Analysis: Here is another position I could see an asterisk there to denote a player added to the roster. As much as I like Brown as a prospect, I could see him on the practice squad as the Steelers bring in a veteran to help the secondary.

Safety (5)

Dave: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Antoine Brooks Jr., Lamont Wade

Analysis: I put Killebrew here where I believe he belongs, and I went with Lamont Wade over Tre Norwood simply because I can’t see all nine draft picks making the roster.

Jeff: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Antoine Brooks, Tre Norwood

Analysis: The Steelers value their draft picks, almost to a fault. Norwood is a versatile player, who can also play cornerback, and this will equate to a spot on the roster. Mike Tomlin loves players who are versatile.

Total Defense: 25 Special Teams

Specialists (3)

Dave: Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III, Kameron Canaday

Analysis: Jeff gets his wish! You’re not going to draft a punter to not give him a job unless he royally screws it up.

Jeff: Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III, Kameron Canaday

Analysis: As much as I want to get excited about Jordan Berry not being on this list, I also realize the Steelers started the 2020 season without Berry, and he found his way back onto the roster. I won’t be happy until Pressley Harvin boots Berry out of a job permanently.

Total Team: 53

Film Room: Is Buddy Johnson a future starter at Buck linebacker for the Steelers?

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 8:30am
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Buddy Johnson in the 4th Round of the NFL Draft, but is he the future of the buck linebacker?

The Steelers selected Texas A&M linebacker Buddy Johnson with their second pick in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft last week.

The 6’1” 230 pound Johnson led the Aggies with 85 tackles in 2020. He also recorded four sacks and an interception and was named a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s best linebacker.

Johnson is an aggressive, downhill backer with a nose for the football. He will play the Buck (strong side) position in Pittsburgh, where he will initially be slotted behind Vince Williams and Robert Spillane on the depth chart. Johnson is a good tackler and, when he uses his hands, plays off of blocks well. His aggression can get him in trouble by putting him out of position, however, and he can get swallowed up at times by bigger offensive linemen.

While Johnson is not exactly a coverage specialist, he moves well enough laterally to stay with crossers and defend backs out of the backfield. He’s an upgrade over Williams and Spillane in this department.

For this film room, I’ve chosen Johnson’s final collegiate game, the 2021 Orange Bowl in which A&M defeated North Carolina 41-27. Johnson turned in a solid performance, making 10 tackles, recording a sack and doing a nice job in coverage. He displayed his trademark aggressiveness as well as some of the traits that could create problems for him in the NFL.

Let’s take a look.

On North Carolina’s opening drive, the Tar Heels were in a passing situation on 2nd and 12. They ran Mesh, a staple of just about every offense in America, which features two receivers crossing the middle of the field in close proximity to one another. The challenge in covering the crossers for the underneath defenders is, in zone, to communicate and trade off the routes (rather than chasing them); and, in man, to navigate the mesh without getting picked or rubbed by one of the bodies cluttering the area.

Johnson (#1, left inside backer) does this expertly. He appears to be playing a combo coverage with the alley defender on the running back and slot receiver. Johnson has whichever of the two goes in while the alley takes whomever goes out. Here, the slot comes inside, running the shallowest of the two crossing routes. Johnson locates him, pivots to run with him, avoids the referee and the high-cross from Carolina’s H-back and tracks the slot’s hip. He shows good awareness and lateral movement in helping force an incompletion:

Johnson is a capable pass defender, but his strong suit is defending the run. Later in the first quarter, however, we see a situation in which he can struggle in that area — disengaging from bigger offensive linemen.

Below, Johnson (right inside linebacker) attempts to fill a hole to his left to defend a one-back power run. Carolina’s right tackle, Jordan Tucker (#74), is a massive individual at 6’7-335. Tucker’s size makes him difficult for smaller players like Johnson to navigate. Johnson does his best to stay square and he tries to use his hands to punch and separate. But Tucker is simply too big. Johnson can’t get over top of him or shed quickly enough to stop the running back from escaping:

The same is not true in this next clip. This is one of my favorite plays of the game by Johnson. Carolina is running GT counter right at Johnson (right inside linebacker). The right guard pulls and kicks out the edge defender while Tucker, the big tackle, wraps to the backer. Watch how quickly Johnson diagnoses the play and gets downhill to fill the hole. Then, look at the two-hand punch he delivers to Tucker’s chest to jolt Tucker upright and create separation. Johnson finishes by shedding the block and assisting on the tackle:

This play shows that when Johnson uses his hands properly, he is a powerful player capable of handling the bigger linemen he will routinely see in the NFL.

Johnson’s reaction in the previous clip displays his ability to diagnose plays quickly. The same is true here. Johnson (right inside backer) again sees the run action and fills fast. This time, however, he’s a bit out of control as he approaches the line of scrimmage and is not prepared to take on the block of the left guard. It’s as though Johnson is expecting to blow the gap cleanly and is surprised when the guard gets to him. He is unprepared to use his hands and doesn’t have any sort of base that will allow him to fight the block. Johnson will have to be more fundamentally sound as an NFL backer so he doesn’t run himself out of plays:

Speaking of running, watch Johnson here. Aligned at right inside backer, he scrapes over top of a gap-exchange stunt that occupies Carolina’s H-back and frees Johnson to run to the football. Run he does, tracking down the quarterback on a zone-read play and finishing with a nice form tackle:

Johnson shows his lateral speed again on this 3rd and 5 play. You can see him circled in the pre-snap photo below, walked up in the B-gap as though he’s coming on a blitz:

At the snap, however, he peels off and picks up the running back in coverage. Because of the ground Johnson has to cover, the quarterback probably suspected this would be an easy pitch and catch for a first down. But Johnson shows good closing speed to track down the back and stop him short of the marker:

Here’s Johnson in coverage again. Aligned at right inside backer, he’s responsible for the release of the running back. This is likely an option route where the back reads Johnson’s leverage and breaks away from it. With Johnson moving laterally to his right, the back must have believed he could have beaten Johnson across his face. But Johnson balances up quickly, redirects and tracks the hip of the back. It’s another nice job by Johnson in an area of his game that’s supposed to be a weakness:

In watching Johnson’s film, I’m more concerned about his positioning against the run than I am about his pass coverage. This isn’t consistent with the scouting reports on Johnson. They all characterize him as a thumper against the run, which no doubt he is. But in the three games I watched to prepare this article (North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida), Johnson was rarely out of position against the pass. He did, however, have a tendency to bury himself by being overly aggressive against the run. Being a thumper is one thing. But you can’t do any thumping if you’re not in proper position first.

Here we see it again. Johnson, at left inside backer, follows the pulling guard on another one-back power run. Rather than staying square and scraping patiently, he gets across the ball too fast and is washed out of the play by a blocker:

This is an issue of which Steelers’ linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky seems aware. Olsavsky was complimentary of Johnson following the draft, particularly when it came to his aggressiveness, when he said the following:

“One of the first things I want to see is when you attack the line of scrimmage,” linebackers coach Jerry Olsavasky said. “We call that going down hill, and Buddy does that really well. You can tell he’s been around football for a long time. He feels comfortable moving with the run and attacking blockers. Blockers are more proficient in the NFL, but that just takes technique. The fact he attacks is very good. You can’t teach that.”

Olsavsky sees what we all do — a player who goes hard to the football. The line that caught my attention, however, is the following:

Blockers are more proficient in the NFL, but that just takes technique.

Olsavsky seems excited about Johnson’s willingness to attack. He should be. Johnson is the epitome of a “downhill” backer. But Olsavsky suggests that, while the effort is there, Johnson’s technique needs work and that some of the things he got away with in college will not fly in the pros. A few of these clips confirm this. Johnson will have to marry his desire with better discipline and technique to be an effective NFL run-defender.

In the end, though, the Steelers seem happy to have acquired an athletic Buck linebacker who is fast and physical. Johnson’s 4.57 forty yard dash clocked fifth among all linebackers who entered the 2021 draft. It allows him to make plays like the one below that neither Williams nor Spillane are equipped to do consistently:

Outlook

Johnson represents an athletic upgrade from Williams and Spillane at the Buck position. The fact he needs some technique work to hone his craft means it’s unlikely he’ll unseat either as the starter in 2021. But he could see reps when the Steelers want more speed on the field, particularly in the role Mark Barron occupied in 2019 as the Dime backer in passing situations. And he will certainly see playing time on special teams, where his speed and tackling ability will be an asset.

It’s hard to say whether Johnson can become a fixture at the Buck. Fourth round picks are rarely shoe-ins to become starters, and Johnson will need to use his hands more consistently and play with better discipline. However, if he can take over, he would pair with Devin Bush to give the Steelers an incredibly fast duo who can play sideline-to-sideline as well as any tandem in the game. While he is far from a finished product, Johnson shows enough potential for Steelers’ fans to be optimistic about his ability to be an impact player in Pittsburgh.

Podcast: Steelers Rookiepedia

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 8:25am

Matt Peverell breaks down the Steelers salary cap and player personnel situation every week in The War Room

The NFL Draft is complete and the Steelers have a bunch of new names and faces to really get to know. Join BTSC’s Matt Peverell for his solo show as he examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers dollars and “sense” situation when it comes to personnel.

Check out the newest addition to the BTSC family of podcasts and stay a while with Matty in The War Room.

Rundown of the show:

  • Overview of Steelers picks + UDFAs
  • Daniel Jeramiah & Bucky Broooks’ thoughts on Steelers Draft picks, pre and post draft
  • Current Compensatory Pick Projection for 2022
  • Deep dive into Quincy Roche’s college production and potential as a Steeler in 2021
  • Review of what’s left at numerous positions in the Free Agent Market: CB, EDGE, OT, QB, RB, OG, S, C and LB

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Updating the Steelers’ salary cap situation following Mason Rudolph’s extension

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

The Steelers locked in their backup quarterback for an extra year, but it cost them some salary cap space in 2021.

Just before the start of the 2021 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced a one-year extension for backup quarterback Mason Rudolph which keeps him under contract through the 2022 season. Currently the only quarterback with a contract beyond 2021 with the Steelers, they will also have the option of offereing a Restricted Free Agent tender to Dewayne Haskins for next season. But this may be putting the cart before the horse as Haskins must first make the 2021 roster.

Getting back to Rudolph, his one-year extension dropped his 2021 base salary from $1,014,801 to $920k according to overthcap.com. Rudolph received a signing bonus of $2.08 million, which when added to his previously prorated bonus of $233,066 which was already counting towards 2021, his new salary cap number for this season is $2,193,066. This was an increase from $1,247,867 which Rudolph originally was going to count against the salary cap.

Just to round out the details of the contract, Rudolph is due a base salary of $3 million in 2022. Once adding on the $1.04 million in prorated bonus, his cap number for 2022 is $4.04 million.

Now where do the Steelers currently stand with the 2021 salary cap? Before free agency kicked off, the Steelers were little more than $6 million under the salary cap. Since then, the number has fluctuated due to various moves.

To determine how much each player changes the Steelers’ salary cap space, their cap number must be adjusted due to roster displacement. As a reminder, roster displacement is taking into account only the top 51 contracts for a team count towards the salary cap during the offseason. As a larger contract comes on the books, it bumps a smaller contract out of the top 51. Therefore, it’s only the difference in those contracts that increases the salary cap number. With the last update, the Steelers displaced the last $660k salary and have now moved into the $780k group, meaning displacement amounts will be slightly lower.

Here is the approximate breakdown of the Steelers salary cap space based on their recent moves by my own calculations. The numbers are strictly the salary cap hit, or change from what it previously was, for each player in 2021.

Steelers salary cap space heading into free agency: Approximately $6 million

Ray-Ray McCloud: Reported $1 million salary; After displacement: -$0.34 million
B.J. Finney: Reported $987,500; After displacement: -$0.3275 million
Cam Sutton: New report of $1.7 million; After displacement: -$1.04 million
Zach Banner: Reported $2.875 million; After displacement: -$2.215 million
Vince Williams: Saved $4 million salary; After displacement: +$3.34 million
Chris Wormley: Reported $1.6 million; After displacement: -$0.94 million
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Reported $2.4 million; After displacement: -$1.74 million
Tyler Simmons: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
Joe Haeg: Reported $1.5 million; After displacement: -$0.84 million
Miles Killebrew: Reported $987,500; After displacement: -$0.3275 million
Steven Nelson: Saved $8.25 million salary; After displacement: +$7.59 million
Cassius Marsh: Reported $950,000; After displacement: -$0.17 million
Eric Ebron: Reportedly saved $3.904; No roster displacement: +$3.904 million
Tyson Alualu: Reported $2.0375 million; After displacement: -$1.2575 million
Jordan Berry: Reported $950,000; After displacement: -$0.17 million
Kalen Ballage: Reported $920,000; After displacement: -$0.14 million
Rashaard Coward: Reported $850,000; After displacement: -$0.07 million
Matthew Sexton: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
Jarvis Miller: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
Jamir Jones: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
T.J. Carter: Reported $660k; not in the top 51: -$0
Abdullah Anderson: Reported $780k; not in the top 51: -$0
Vince Williams: Reported $850,000; After displacement: -$0.07 million
Joshua Dobbs: Reported $900,000; After displacement: -$0.12 million
Mason Rudolph: Reported $2,193,066 cap number; After increase: -$0.945199 million

Approximate salary cap space: Approximately $10.1 million

Note: Miles Killebrew was the final contract displace a $660k salary. From Cassius Marsh on, the displacement is a $780k salary.

So where does this number compare to those reported by the major salary cap websites?

According to overthecap.com, the Steelers are $9,326,387 under the salary cap. OTC has all of the above contracts on the books. For some reason, they have the number lower than it should be. Even when adding up the Steelers’ top 51 salaries and dead money owed this year, their own numbers don’t make sense to come in where they are.

Another credible salary cap website is spotrac.com, which has the Steelers at $11,052,370 under the cap, but they do not have the Rudolph extension at this time. After taking into account Rudolph’s deal, their number should come in the same as mine.

While the Steelers are going to need cap space for a number of things this offseason, it doesn’t have to be at this time. One the Steelers begin signing their draft picks,and only the top three of the Steelers draft picks will actually be in the top 51 and will only count less than $2 million on the salary cap. Also remember, the Steelers won’t need this amount until at least May whenever the negotiated contracts become official.

Also, the Steelers will need as much as an additional $10 million (a very high estimate, with $7 million coming in on the low end) come September when they need to account for all 53 players on the roster, sign their practice squad, and have some carryover in order to do business throughout the year. With this in mind, the Steelers have a couple million dollars they could use and can still have enough space come September, and that is without doing any extensions or restructures.

An additional factor to keep down the money needed in September is any player not in the top 51 who makes the team will save the Steelers the difference in salary of the player in the top 51 who is cut. Right now players such as Henry Mondeaux, Antoine Brooks, and Kevin Rader are not in the top 51 according to OTC. After signing their 2021 draft picks, James Pierre, J.C. Hassenauer, and Carlos Davis, along with all of the Steelers’ Day 3 draft picks and undrafted free agents, will be outside the top 51 as well.

The Steelers currently have about the right amount of cap space for the season for the time being. If the Steelers were to spend more at this time, they would have to move some things around before September.

Just how much do the Steelers think a good secondary is worth, anyway?

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

With the decision to decline the fifth-year option for safety Terrell Edmunds, the Steelers could be one step closer to dismantling a secondary it took them a long time to build.

The Steelers announced on Monday that they will not be picking up the fifth-year option for safety Terrell Edmunds, their 2018 first-round pick.

I was a little shocked by this development, especially since it felt like the next step closer to tearing down a darn-good secondary that took Pittsburgh a long time to build into a force.

The first domino to fall was the free-agent defection of slot corner Mike Hilton in March. That wasn’t much of a surprise, and it helped that Cameron Sutton, who ultimately got a new deal of his own, was waiting in the wings to step in and take Hilton’s place.

The next domino was the release of cornerback Steven Nelson, a man who appeared (at least to a layman like me) to be about as consistent a player as any member of Pittsburgh’s defense after arriving in town as a free agent in 2019. Depending on what you want to believe, Nelson either wanted a raise or the Steelers thought his base salary in 2021—roughly $8 million—was too steep a price to pay and were looking for a team-friendly extension. Given the money Pittsburgh saved by releasing Nelson, and how quickly this happened, I’m inclined to believe the latter.

But that’s just speculation.

What isn’t speculation is the money Edmunds would have made had the Steelers picked up his fifth-year option for 2022: $6.7 million.

That didn’t happen, and now Edmunds could soon wind up as the next domino to fall in the quick dismantling of a unit that just became bona fide in 2019.

As Ron Burgundy said in Anchorman, “That escalated quickly.”

Obviously, nothing is over until it’s over, and Edmunds and the Steelers could work out a long-term deal for a little less per year than the value of the option.

But I wouldn’t count on it, especially if Edmunds continues to improve as a starting strong safety. The key word in that previous sentence is “starting.” A starting strong safety heading into his fifth season generally commands a decent contract in free agency. I realize Edmunds isn’t Ronnie Lott or Troy Polamalu, but he’s played well enough during his brief career to remain in the lineup.

In other words, he’s not Jarvis Jones or Artie Burns, either.

Even with the expected departure of Hilton during free agency, the Steelers secondary seemed promising on paper in 2021 with Joe Haden and Nelson manning the corners, Sutton taking over as the slot and Minkah Fitzpatrick and Edmunds as the safeties.

With the release of Nelson, does this mean Sutton will play on the outside? If so, who moves to the inside to play the slot in those sub-packages that aren’t so sub anymore? If it’s Sutton, Mr. Versatility, fine. But who plays on the outside? The excitement for James Pierre is nice and all, but it’s backed up by the smallest of sample sizes.

The last time we saw Justin Layne playing cornerback, he was boosting the passer ratings of quarterbacks who threw to receivers he was trying to cover.

As for 2022, you have Fitzpatrick and Sutton as the only sure things (and it’s still a little early to refer to Sutton as that) currently under contract.

My question to the Steelers is, just how much do they think a good secondary is worth financially?

Again, I realize Edmunds isn’t a star, but he is improving and still incredibly young. What do they think they’ll be able to replace him with in terms of quality, provided the two sides don’t agree on some sort of long-term deal?

One can ask similar things about the cornerback position. Just how much do they think consistent starters are worth? After all, they weren’t willing to pay both Haden and Nelson veteran-starter salaries beyond two seasons.

I keep hearing about how the Steelers didn’t want to tie up a lot of money in one position—Fitzpatrick’s fifth-year option, which they did pick up, will pay him approximately $10 million in 2022. OK, but that didn’t stop the Steelers from tying up a bunch of money in their successful offensive line in the previous decade.

According to Spotrac, defensive linemen Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt will eat up close to $30 million in cap space next year.

The Steelers certainly have to be fiscally responsible in the coming years. Yes, they have a lot of cap room opening up as early as 2022, but a good bit of that space will be closed by the presumed huge deals that T.J. Watt and Fitzpatrick will get. But even with mega-deals given to two All-Pro defenders, you’d think there’d still be enough room to keep the starting strong safety around.

I’m aware that a lot can happen between now and next spring. For example, the Steelers could acquire a really good safety in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. But even if they do, and even if he’s good, will they want to pay him when the time is right? Or maybe they’ll decide to move on from Fitzpatrick at that point.

The bottom line is it costs money to keep a good secondary together. I never expected the Steelers to keep this unit intact for a decade, but only two years?

After the days of Mike Mitchell and Artie Burns, let’s just say I was hoping to get more bang for my buck.

Alejandro Villanueva throws shade on the Steelers in his first press conference in Baltimore

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 5:30am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Alejandro Villanueva, now officially a member of the Ravens, had some unique quotes about his former team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had an extremely long list of free agents entering the 2021 offseason, and shockingly they were able to retain a good majority of those players. However, for players like Bud Dupree and James Conner, they found homes elsewhere.

As the 2021 NFL Draft approached, there were still some players who were without homes, and one of the biggest names on the free agent market was former Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. When May 3rd came and went, and thus ending the free agent compensatory formula being impacted, and the Ravens announced they signed Villanueva to a two-year, $14 million deal with Baltimore on Tuesday that includes $8 million guaranteed

On Wednesday, Villanueva was in front of the Ravens’ media members for the first time, and considering he is now on the other side of the Ravens/Steelers rivalry, there were plenty of questions about his former team.

If you think the former Army Ranger turned tackle would have held his tongue, saying all the right things, think again. Villanueva was rather candid when asked about his time in Pittsburgh. In fact, he said the fact he would play the Steelers, who told him at the beginning of the offseason they weren’t going to re-sign him, twice was a major reason why he went to the division rival.

“The fact that I knew the Ravens is a team that plays hard, a team that plays AFC North-type football and I get a chance to play the Steelers as well was something that motivated me coming here for sure,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva spoke openly about his time in the service, why he left the military, but the Steelers fan base certainly saw red flags go up when Villanueva was asked about run blocking more than pass blocking, something he did plenty of while in Pittsburgh.

“I’m assuming it’s not as much fun [running the ball] for the receivers,” Villanueva said. “Because they’re not getting all of the catches, they’re making the TikToks, and they’re having fun on their social media.”

Consider shots fired.

It was last season when JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool made national headlines with their TikTok videos, and their rapidly growing social media platforms. Some, like former teammate Zach Banner said this comment was nothing to be overblown.

Al is living in your heads rent free right now lol...

I love and miss the OG already...

I wish him luck. Congrats on a great career in the ... pic.twitter.com/vFW310YjNQ

— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) May 5, 2021

Others certainly don’t feel that way, and consider Villanueva’s comments as just another reason for the global Steelers fan base to despise the entire Ravens organization.

As the 2021 regular season approaches, I’m sure these comments will be magnified, but in the meantime Villanueva will now be tasked to learning a new system, in a new city and a new quarterback. In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 regular season.

Podcast: Did the Steelers ‘go big’ in the 2021 NFL draft?

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 4:30am

The Oracle Dave Schofield shares his thoughts in the AM platform with the classic stats show with the Co-Editor of BTSC.

With many of their nine draft picks last weekend during the 2021 NFL draft, the Steelers seemed to pick larger individuals than what they usually do. Did the Steelers set out to ‘go big’? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Did the Steelers ‘go big’ in the 2021 NFL draft?
  • and MUCH MORE!

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You can listen to the show in the player below.

Justin Layne pleads guilty to lesser chargers from his April arrest

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 3:59pm
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Layne’s felony charge has been dropped as a part of his guilty plea.

Steelers cornerback Justin Layne has avoided the jail time and a felony charge by pleading guilty to three misdemeanors stemming from his arrest in the early hours of Friday, April 23, 2021. According to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk, Lane pleaded guilty to a lesser charges and the case has been resolved:

Layne was facing a fourth-degree felony gun charge after his arrest following a traffic stop, but the Willoughby News-Herald reports that he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor possession of criminal tools charge on Wednesday. He also pleaded guilty to charges of speeding and driving without an operator’s license.

Layne received a six-month suspended jail sentence. He will not serve time as long as he pays a $500 fine, forfeits a Glock 9mm handgun, and performs 32 hours of community service.

Layne is entering his third season with the Steelers after being drafted out of Michigan State. The Cleveland native has been primarily a special teams player, and someone the Steelers would be looking to fill the cornerback role left vacant when they released Steven Nelson and lost Mike Hilton via Free Agency. Layne played 117 defensive snaps in 2020 for the Steelers after playing zero in his rookie season. Appearing in all 16 games in 2020, Layne logged 261 special team snaps which was fourth most on the team behind Jordan Dangerfield, Ola Adeniyi , and Alex Highsmith.

During the incident, Layne informed authorities that he believed he had taken care of the previous issue which caused him to have a suspended drivers license and did not believe he was driving illegally. While in the police cruiser, Lane was videotaped making several remarks, one of which acknowledged the most severe violation of traveling with the handgun which ultimately led to the fourth-degree felony gun charge.

The Steelers have yet to comment on the issue with Layne, and he remains a member of the teams 90-man offseason roster.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, draft analysis, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

Best of What’s Left: Available free agents for the Steelers after the draft

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 2:30pm
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers could still be looking to add some talent to their roster, and here are some names they might be targeting.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who checked a lot of boxes throughout the 2021 NFL Draft. They added either a starter quality player at positions of need, and much needed depth at others. But this isn’t to suggest their roster is complete.

After the draft, and signing Undrafted Rookie Free Agents (UDFAs), there are still positions the team could be looking to add a free agent to their roster. Before diving into the names of players still looking for a home, it is worth noting the window for free agent signings which would impact the compensatory formula is officially over. So, the players who are signed at this point do not hurt the Steelers in terms of future compensatory draft picks.

That isn’t to suggest the Steelers have a lot of cap space to sign some of these players, but as it is said, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Let’s take a look at the top free agents still available, by position:

Quarterback

Nick Mullens, San Francisco 49ers
Brian Hoyer, New England Patriots
Robert Griffin III, Baltimore Ravens
Blaine Gabbert, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Matt Barkley, Buffalo Bills
Blake Bortles, Los Angeles Rams
Sean Mannion, Minnesota Vikings
A.J. McCarron, Houston Texans

Wide Receiver

Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
Golden Tate, New York Giants
Alshon Jeffery, Philadelphia Eagles
Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars
Isaiah Ford, Miami Dolphins
Dez Bryant, Baltimore Ravens
Laquon Treadwell, Atlanta Falcons
De’Anthony Thomas, Baltimore Ravens
Marqise Lee, New England Patriots

Running Back

Le’Veon Bell, Kansas City Chiefs
Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons
Duke Johnson, Houston Texans
Brian Hill, Atlanta Falcons
Adrian Peterson, Detroit Lions
Chris Thompson, Jacksonville Jaguars
Dion Lewis, New York Giants
Devonta Freeman, New York Giants
LeSean McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Alfred Morris, New York Giants

Tight Ends

Trey Burton, Indianapolis Colts
Tyler Eifert, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jesse James, Detroit Lions
Richard Rodgers, Philadelphia Eagles
MyCole Pruitt, Tennessee Titans
Josh Perkins, Philadelphia Eagles
Demetrius Harris, Chicago Bears
Deon Yelder, Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Line

Charles Leno Jr., Chicago Bears
Russell Okung, Carolina Panthers
Kelechi Osemele, Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs
Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs
Austin Reiter, Kansas City Chiefs
Dennis Kelly, Tennessee Titans
Trai Turner, Los Angeles Chargers

Cornerback/Safety

Richard Sherman, CB, San Francisco 49ers
Brian Poole, CB, New York Jets
Bashaud Breeland, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Arizona Cardinals
Steven Nelson, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Defensive Line

Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals
Damon Harrison, DT, Green Bay Packers
Sheldon Richardson, IDL, Cleveland Browns
Kawann Short, DT, Carolina Panthers

Pass Rusher

Olivier Vernon, EDGE, Cleveland Browns
Melvin Ingram, EDGE, Los Angeles Chargers
Anthony Chickillo, OLB, Denver Broncos
Justin Houston, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts
Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington

These aren’t all of the free agents who are still on the open market, but the bigger names players still looking for a team for the 2021 regular season. Will the Steelers bring a player on the above list in for at least a visit? Only time will tell, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Why the Steelers did not pick up Terrell Edmunds’ fifth-year option

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Some chalk up the decision based solely on performance, but the business of the NFL was a huge factor.

Prior to the 2021 NFL draft, it was reported the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up the fifth-year option on safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. By doing so, Fitzpatrick‘s $2,722,878 base salary in 2021 along with his $10.612 million fifth-year option for 2020 to become fully guaranteed. Although he was not a draft selection by the Steelers in 2018, by trading for Fitzpatrick the Steelers held the rights to the option.

Interestingly enough, the fifth-year option for Terrell Edmunds was not reported prior to the draft. On Monday, mere hours before the deadline, it was reported the Steelers would not be exercising the option on Edmunds.

Ever since the Steelers drafted Edmunds as the 28th pick in the 2018 NFL draft, many within the Steelers’ fan base felt it was a huge reach and the Steelers would eventually regret the decision. Since that time, Edmunds has started 43 of the 47 regular-season games for the Steelers. While not tearing up the league with All-Pro selections like his safety counterpart, Edmunds has become a solid player on the Steelers defense. Unfortunately, the first round label has followed him and therefore set some lofty expectations.

So if Edmunds has been doing the job for the Steelers, why not exercise his fifth-year option? Since he had not earned a Pro Bowl selection, let alone two, Edmunds fifth-year option was merely 64% of that of Fitzpatrick at $6.753 million. Is Edmunds not giving 64% of what the Steelers have in Fitzpatrick? Was it based solely on performance?

Being the numbers person that I am, I believe it does come down to the business of football and the contracts when it comes to the choice of not exercising the option on Edmunds. Simply because his option was not picked up does not mean he will go the route of Jarvis Jones and Artie Burns and not spend any time with the Steelers beyond his first four seasons. I’m sure the Steelers are planning to work out a deal with Edmunds to keep him in Pittsburgh long term, whether doing it this offseason or next. The biggest question will be if not picking up the option has made Edmunds sour on the situation.

When it comes to the numbers, a big factor could simply had to do with the huge jump in salary at one specific position. It’s unusual for the Steelers to have two players with a fifth-year option in the same year, especially since it’s never happened to them before. While the Steelers appear to have the salary cap space for 2022 in order to make the move, the last thing they want to do is start overpaying players simply because they have some space at the moment.

Not only are the Steelers dealing with two players where they had to decide on their fifth-year option, they are both in the same position group. While this may or may not be a factor, if someone is looking over the finances of the team, it would be a huge jump in salary at one position in just one year’s time.

For 2021, the Steelers are currently ranked 25th in the NFL in positional spending at the safety position according to overthecap.com. With both starting safeties on rookie contracts, the safety position has been where the Steelers have spent the least amount of money on the defense since 2018.

Had the Steelers picked up Edmunds’ fifth-year option, it would have more than doubled their positional spending just between the contracts of their two starters and not taking into account any additional players. Based on current contracts for 2022, the Steelers would have shot up to 8th in the NFL with just those two salaries.

Additionally, if looking at both performance and salary, based on safeties under contract for the 2022 season as reported by OTC, Edmunds would be the 18th highest-paid player at the position. Is there anyone who thinks Edmunds is the 18th best safety in the NFL, putting him ahead of the top safety on roughly half on the teams in the NFL?

This situation may have been much like the Steelers’ restricted free agents in 2021. The Steelers did not offer tenders to either Ray-Ray McCloud or Ola Adeniyi because they weren’t worth the $2.133 million it would take. Because of this, Ola Adeniyi left in free agency, but McCloud signed a one-year deal with the Steelers at a much more reasonable $1 million. Even though the Steelers wanted to keep a player, they knew better than to overpay.

Ultimately, the decision to not offer the fifth-year option to Terrell Edmunds was likely due to multiple factors. If it wasn’t for exercising the option on Fitzpatrick at the same position in the same year, it may not have been a problem. Add in the fact the team would be spending nearly $7 million on their second-best safety, the Steelers would be back in the position they just got out of at cornerback. With multiple, big contracts along the defensive line and a potentially huge deal coming for T.J. Watt, the yearly cost may have simply been too much after taking everything else into consideration.

If the Steelers made the decision they were only going to use the fifth-year option on one player, it made sense to go with Fitzpatrick even though it was for so much more money. If the ultimate goal was to have one player on the fifth-year option and work out a deal with the other, there’s always a risk of not having that deal come through. If this was going to be the case, losing Terrell Edmunds would be the preferred worst-case scenario than losing Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Money, performance, positional spending, and timing we’re likely all factors in the Steelers decision. Just like everything else Steelers’ fans find out about with their beloved team, there is obviously a plan in place by the front office. Whether or not everything works out the way the Steelers hope it will is the ultimate question which will be answered farther down the road.

2021 NFL Draft: Scouting Roundup on Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Looking what experts were saying about the Steelers second round pick.

In the 2nd Round of the 2021 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Pat Freiermuth out of Penn State. Here’s what some different draft sites were saying about Freiermuth.

Tony Pauline for Pro Football Network

The Good

Nice-sized tight end who shows a complete game at the position. Natural receiver who plays heads-up football and shows great awareness. Sells routes, extends his hands, and snatches the ball away from his frame with strong hands. Locates the pass in the air and makes the difficult catch in a crowd with multiple defenders draped on him. Bends his knees, plays with leverage, and gives effort blocking even if the play is away from him.

The Bad

Possesses average blocking strength and really doesn’t get much movement. Average run-after-the-catch skill. Doesn’t show the great burst or play speed for a top-rated tight end.

Doug Farrar for USA Today

The Good

Freiermuth has already received the nickname “Baby Gronk” for his blocking and aggressive catch style. It’s a high bar, but it’s possible.

The Bad

When run blocking, at times, he tends to over-stride, where he is a little too aggressive to make his block. Any above average linebacker with leverage can easily move around him.
As for receiving, there isn’t much downside. But from the film, when he has to get low making a catch, he often has trouble keeping his feet underneath him, so it will make for an ugly fall to the ground and sometimes, on those events specifically, ball security was an issue.

Lance Zierlein for NFL.com

The Good

Coveted combination of size and athletic ability.
Highly competitive with ball in his hands.
Smooth in space and stacks downhill yards after the catch.
Pummels tacklers with phone pole stiff-arm.
Has size and blocking potential to become a true Y tight end.
Makes impressive athletic recoveries and finishes blocks.

The Bad

Can improve his angles as a blocker.
Needs better first-engagement pop.
Inconsistent footwork to sustain second-level blocks.
Average quickness to separate on lateral route breaks.
Inconsistent catch focus to finish in traffic.
Can do a better job of putting defenders on his hip and out of the catch.

Kyle Crabbs for The Draft Network

The Good

Today’s NFL is ultimately rooted in the passing game and tight ends are the new-age mismatch weapons that put defensive play-callers in a bind. Freiermuth can be that caliber of a receiver thanks to his blend of size, hands, route-running, and physicality in the secondary.

The Bad

As Freiermuth has developed his body and added muscle during his time at Penn State, the assumption was that he would continue to progress as an in-line blocker; but we never really saw that leap in that chapter of his game, even once he returned for the 2020 season.

Jim Mora for Sports Illustrated

He has the size, he has the stature and he has the length. He’s what the NFL is looking for right now in a tight end, and that’s a mismatch down the field on defensive players. Pat is a guy who causes defensive coordinators headaches, because you have to figure out a way to cover him. If you play man coverage on him, the defensive backs aren’t big enough, and linebackers and defensive ends aren’t fast enough or athletic enough. These guys are rare and so valued. He’s a guy who’s going to create problems.

Summary

Pat Freiermuth is as unlikely to live up to the “Baby Gronk” nickname as any of the players that were touted as “The next Michael Jordan” were. But it is clear from reading scouting reports on Freiermuth that he has an incredibly high ceiling and a floor that isn’t that low either.

The word Potential is tied to Freiermuth at every turn, he has the size and athleticism to be a really good blocker, just needs to get his technique down. He has the size and ball catching ability to be a matchup nightmare, but he needs to improve his route running and reduce drops.

Freiermuth reminds me of a second round version of Jesse James. James had the potential to be much better than he was if you just looked at physical traits and his catching ability. He was a solid player, a really good fifth round pick, but he never reached that ceiling. Freiermuth should be a solid starting tight end for the Steelers, but he has the potential to be a generational talent at his position.

Podcast: Arthritic-Knee Jerk reactions to the Steelers 2021 NFL draft

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 11:00am

In the spirit of brotherly love, siblings Dave and Rich Schofield break down all things surrounding the black-and-gold.

The draft is over and the Steelers have plenty of new talent to add to the roster. There’s been so many knee jerk reactions, so why not get some from those with arthritic patellas. That’s the topic for discussion on the latest edition of The Scho Bro Show. But wait there’s more. It’s May the Fourth, Star Wars Day. The second part of the show will combine Star Wars and the Steelers. Don’t miss it!

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, still talk stats, and also answer questions from fans!#

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Draft Reactions
  • A black-and-gold May the Fourth
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel.

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

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If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Why 2021 truly is the ‘Year of Ben’ for the Pittsburgh Steelers

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 10:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As in the past, the fate of the Pittsburgh Steelers this season rests squarely on Ben Roethlisberger's shoulders.

If he never took another snap, Ben Roethlisberger would be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game. After the hugely deflating conclusion of the 2020 season, plenty of fans were saying Ben is finished as an NFL quarterback. In fact, many were calling on the team to release him and go back to the drawing board on offense.

But No. 7 had different plans and his decision to return for what's widely expected to be his final NFL season had nothing to do with money. For Ben, the 2021 season is all about the unfinished business of living up to his own standard of excellence after falling short in 2020.

Not even the most rabid, lifelong Steelers fan was any more disappointed than Ben Roethlisberger by the team's late-season implosion. Quite clearly, Ben doesn't choose to be remembered as yet another aging QB whose skills suddenly lapsed. As anyone who's witnessed his career should know, that's simply not who Ben is.

Ending his career on a high note is the only logical reason for Ben to return to the field (without his Pro Bowl center) to face the rigors of another long NFL season. And given Roethlisberger's immense talent and competitive spirit, this portends a season that every Steelers fan should welcome.

Of course, there's no pacifying the fan who's ready to fire the entire Steelers organization anytime the team falls short of a Super Bowl win. But for loyal, diehard fans, the spectacle of a great, veteran quarterback returning for his final NFL season ought to be satisfaction enough regardless of the outcome.

Ben has never made excuses for himself when the team loses. On the contrary, he invariably shoulders personal responsibility for a poor showing. And if Ben didn't care deeply about the Steelers organization, his teammates and his hyper-critical fans, there would be no reason to risk playing a final season. That's because, due to some new faces on the OL, there's no guarantee 2021 will be more successful than last season.

But that's exactly the kind of courage, toughness and leadership we've come to expect from No. 7 throughout his stellar career. Win or lose, 2021 is shaping up as Ben's Year. He's planning to own this coming season, just as he's owned his performance in every season since his rookie year. No more thoughts now about next season, only a singular focus on making 2021 the very best it can be.

It's precisely this type of go-for-broke challenge which Ben has always relished as a player -- and the main reason why he's become a hero to Steelers Nation.

So, with a successful NFL Draft in the books, it's time to get ready for what promises to be quite a memorable season, regardless of how the chips may fall.

Is Najee Harris the next Le’Veon Bell for the Steelers?

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 8:30am
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Will Najee Harris be the feature back the Steelers haven’t had since Le’Veon Bell left in free agency?

The next Le’Veon Bell.

Before you go any further, I want to make something extremely clear to the Pittsburgh Steelers fan reading this article. Throughout this piece I will compare Najee Harris to Le’Veon Bell, on the field. Not off the field. Not at the end of his rookie contract. As a player. Nothing less, nothing more.

Okay, with that out of the way, I was reading through the Najee Harris introductory press conference transcripts recently, and he was asked about the Steelers’ offense and what he knew about it.

Harris said he didn’t know much about Matt Canada, but knew how the Steelers have used Le’Veon Bell in the past, this under Todd Haley. Here is what Harris told the media:

“...especially during the time Le’Veon [Bell] was here. Just how they use them [running backs] in the passing game, and in the running game. Just how they use them as three-down backs, and I liked how he [Bell] was lined up wide. I feel like I can do all of that stuff, if not better. I’m excited to learn more.”

“If not better.”

That portion of the sentence caught my attention, for obvious reasons, but also got me thinking about Harris. Everything from his stature to his playing style. It made me question whether he is the Steelers’ next Le’Veon Bell?

I decided to do a little tale of tape, and go back to Bell when he was entering the league in 2013 after spending three seasons with the Michigan State Spartans. Just look at their height and weight:

Najee Harris
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 232lbs.

Le’Veon Bell
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 230lbs.

But the almost freaky comparisons between the two players goes well beyond height and weight. Just look at some of their testing numbers. It should be noted Harris’ numbers came from his Pro Day with the NFL Scouting Combine canceled, while Bell’s came from the combine.

40-yard dash time:
Harris: 4.59
Bell: 4.6

20-yard shuttle:
Harris: 3.7
Bell: 4.24

Vertical Jump:
Harris: 38.5
Bell: 31.5

Bench Press:
Harris: 18
Bell: 24

3-Cone Drill:
Harris: 7.35
Bell: 6.75

I have to admit, by the time I had found all the measurables, I was interested to see what kind of statistics both brought with them when they decided to go pro. Take a look at their college statistics, both rushing and receiving.

College Statistics

Najee Harris, Alabama (4 seasons)

Attempts: 638
Yards: 3,843
Yards per Carry: 6.0
Rushing TDs: 46

Receptions: 80
Receiving Yards: 781
Yards per Reception: 9.8
Receiving TDs: 11

Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (3 seasons)

Attempts: 671
Yards: 3,346
Yards per Carry: 5.0
Rushing TDs: 33

Receptions: 78
Receiving Yards: 531
Yards per Reception: 6.8
Receiving TDs: 1

One of the biggest criticisms of Harris coming into the 2021 NFL Draft was the amount of miles on his proverbial tires. Compared to Travis Etienne, who was drafted No. 25 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Javonte Williams, who went to the Denver Broncos in the second round, Harris had the most carries to his name. But look at the carries between Harris, who spent 4 years at Alabama, and Bell, who spent just 3 at Michigan State.

Were people saying this was a negative as Bell entered the NFL? Were people mentioning this as he tore up the league in 2014 and 2015? The answer is a resounding no.

But maybe you are more of a visual learner. Just check out some highlights of both Harris and Bell while in college. Of course, you see some sloppy defense, but also a ridiculous amount of similarities between the two ball carriers.

Najee Harris Highlights

Le’Veon Bell Highlights

My goodness, the similarities between the two are uncanny. They both run the ball well inside and outside, both lack true break away speed, both have tremendous receiving abilities and both used the hurdle to make a name for themselves as runners in the open field.

So, after all of this, what is the conclusion? The conclusion is Harris has every tool Bell had when he came to the Steelers, and to suggest he couldn’t turn into the next Bell, on the field, isn’t out of the question. A lot of this falls on Matt Canada to see what he has in Harris, and utilize his skill set to better the Steelers’ offense. Haley was able to do that with Bell, and it will be up to Canada to turn Harris into a mismatch nightmare in every facet.

Some are talking about a potential return of Bell if he doesn’t find a team by the start of the 2021 regular season, I ask why when they have the next Bell on their roster for at least the next four years.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the upcoming NFL schedule release, and the 2021 regular season.

The historical context of the Steelers opening their 2021 NFL draft with 4 offensive picks

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Steelers had not picked an offensive player in the first round of the NFL draft since 2012.

The Pittsburgh Steelers broke one of their recent trends in the NFL draft by having a first-round selection go towards the offensive side of the ball. It had been almost a decade since the Steelers drafted an offensive player in the first round. In fact, the last election was in 2012 when offensive guard David DeCastro out of Stanford fell to the Steelers at the 24th overall pick.

But the Steelers weren’t done addressing the offensive side of the ball after Round 1 of the 2021 NFL draft. Both selections in Day 2 of the draft as well as their first selection of Day 3 also came on offense.

With it being such a long time since the Steelers invested so much draft capital at the top of the draft towards the offense, questions arose as to how long has it been since the Steelers drafted so many offensive players to begin the draft.

After selecting running back Najee Harris in Round 1 and starting off Friday night by selecting tight end Pat Freiermuth out of Penn State, the Steelers had drafted back-to-back offensive players to start the draft for the first time in a long time. Exactly how long has it been?

2 straight offensive picks: 2012 Players: G David DeCastro & OT Mike Adams

The last time the Steelers selected an offensive player in the first round of the NFL draft was also the last time they selected two players to start the draft. Unlike 2021 where the Steelers went with a running back and a tight end, the 2012 season saw the Steelers investing their two top picks on the offensive line.

But day two of the 2021 NFL draft also finished up with the Steelers selecting center/guard Kendrick Green. So when was the last time the Steelers selected three players to start the NFL draft?

3 straight offensive picks: 1995 Players: TE Mark Bruner, QB Kordell Stewart, & G Brendan Stai

In order to see the Steelers selecting three straight offensive players, one would have to go back over a quarter of a century. In 1995, the Steelers went tight end, quarterback, and guard in the first three rounds of the NFL draft. The interesting trend so far is that a guard has been included in all of these years.

Then the Steelers did the unthinkable to start off Saturday of the draft. Going with offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr out of Texas A&M, the Steelers made it four straight offensive players. So when was the last time they managed to do this?

4 straight offensive picks: 1984 Players: WR Louis Lipps, TE Chris Kolodziejski, WR Weegie Thompson, & G Terry Long

During the 2020 NFL season, the name Louis Lipps had come up quite often when talking about rookie receiving records for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Chase Claypool tying the Steelers rookie receiving touchdown records, it caused many to look back at the 1984 draft class. If anyone was paying attention, they would have noticed the Steelers invested heavily in the offense to start off their draft in 1984 in taking two wide receivers, a tight end, and (of course) a guard.

So this had to be a record, right? There’s no way the Steelers drafted more offensive players than four to start off the draft in any one year, especially if we’re talking only since the NFL merger

Believe it or not, the streak wasn’t even close…

6 straight offensive picks: 1976 Players: TE Bennie Cunningham, T Ray Pinney, QB Mike Kruczek, C James Files, G Ron Coder, & WR Ernest Pough

Yes, you read that correctly. The Pittsburgh Steelers and their fantastic Steel Curtain defense of the 70s was not aided at all in the top of the 1976 NFL draft. Perhaps it was because the team was already established on defense, or maybe they just decided to go in a different direction. But the Steelers drafted six different offensive positions in 1976 going with tight end, tackle, quarterback, center, guard, and wide receiver. And for the record, the first defender off the board was a defensive back out of Nebraska by the name of Wonderful Terrific Monds Jr. Unfortunately, Wonder Monds didn’t even make it through training camp with the Steelers.

So there you have it. Even though the Steelers went with fourth straight picks of the offensive side of the ball, it still doesn’t come close to the record of six players in 1976. For the record, when looking at the number of draft picks before a defender was taken, the Steelers only made it to pick 112 in 1976 before taking a defender where it was pick 140 in 2021. Interesting enough, this still wouldn’t be a record as the Steelers did not take a defensive player in the 1962 draft until pick 145 which happened to fall in Round 11. Even with this selection, the Steelers had taken five offensive players before going defense as the Steelers did not have a pick in Rounds 2 through 6 as the franchise philosophy used to be giving away their draft picks like candy on Halloween.

Regardless of the history, the Pittsburgh Steelers saw some of the biggest needs on their team going into 2021 and did their best to address them at the appropriate time. Even with all the hype of adding four offensive players to start their draft, what ultimately will determine if this was successful is when the players take the field this fall.

The Steelers’ selection of Kendrick Green was just what I expected

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 6:00am
Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier, Lafayette Journal & Courier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

As is usually the case with a Steelers Day 2 draft choice, I had no idea who Illinois center/guard Kendrick Green was when the Steelers picked him in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft. However, after getting to know him a bit, I’ve learned there are plenty of things to like.

When the Steelers passed on Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey and, instead, selected Penn State tight end, Pat Freiermuth, in the second round of the 2021 NFL on Friday night, I was a little surprised.

But I was only a little surprised. As I wrote in a recent article, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected from the Steelers on Day 2 of the NFL Draft; just when I think they’re going to take a known player who fits a specific need with their second and/or third-round pick, they go ahead and pick a guy I’ve never heard of. The good news with the Freiermuth selection was that I actually knew who he was. Also, he addressed a need that was perhaps as big or bigger than center.

As has been the tradition during my many years following the annual NFL Draft, I was fairly confident that the Freiermuth selection would bring to a close the “knowing players” portion of the draft for yours truly. Sure enough, when I woke up on Saturday morning to discover that Pittsburgh had selected Illinois guard/center Kendrick Green in the third round (87th, overall), I wasn’t surprised that I had no idea who he was.

That’s right, I never heard of the guy; after quickly taking a look at social media, I soon found out that Green’s overall draft ranking was 168 on someone’s board and that, oh yeah, there were any number of players the Steelers could have taken, instead.

Again, this was a common feeling for me—not knowing a player. I didn’t know the Steelers most recent third-round picks: Alex Highsmith (2020) and Diontae Johnson (2019).

If I may reference the recent article I wrote one more time, this is what happens with casual draft followers like me. The closer a prospect gets to triple digits in big board rankings, the less oxygen I have left in my brain to learn anything about him.

Thankfully, I usually have plenty of air in my head to learn about a player once the Steelers have drafted him, and after doing a bit of research, I really like this guy.

In fact, you might say Green is my new Kevin Dotson, a player who appears to have an engaging personality off the field and clearly has a mean and nasty streak on it.

I believe Green displayed both of those character traits when he celebrated his draft selection with his family on Friday.

That’s all feel-good stuff, however. Let’s talk shop. Green is a great athlete who converted over from the defensive side of the ball early in his college career. He turned in a speedy 4.85 40 time at his Pro Day in March. He is versatile and played both guard and center at Illinois.

Make no mistake, though, Green was drafted to be the team’s next starting center.

The Steelers went into the draft looking for starters at various positions.

The Steelers got their running back—Najee Harris—in the first round. They nabbed Freiermuth in the second. The selection of Green capped off the team’s mission to address at least three of those positions of need with the kind of draft pedigree normally reserved for players you’d like to see at the top of the depth chart sooner rather than later.

Speaking of social media, while glancing at Twitter on Saturday morning, I learned that Pittsburgh could have addressed those three positions with a different combination of players over the first two days of the draft. Did the organization take the wrong combo, instead? Who can really say? I’ve been following the draft long enough to know that I really don’t know.

It would be foolish for most to think otherwise about such an inexact science.

I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to these draft choices. You give me some players who address needs and aren’t reaches, I will find a way to get excited about them.

It’s not hard to be excited about Kendrick Green, a stranger I can’t wait to get to know a little better.

Podcast: How Najee Harris’ versatility will be a weapon for the Steelers in 2021

Wed, 05/05/2021 - 4:30am

Jeff Hartman brings an AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

Najee Harris is being counted on to revive the running game of his new team of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just what will the versatility of No. 22 mean to the success of football in the Steel City? That is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this, the LIVE mailbag and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Comparing Najee Harris to Le’Veon Bell
  • The LIVE mailbag!
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

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