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James Conner unlikely to factor into Steelers’ compensatory formula for 2022

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 2:24pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

While not impossible, the likelihood of Conner entering the equation is small based on his past usage.

On Tuesday, former Steelers running back to James Connor signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, this deal is worth $1.75 million.

Correction on compensation: James Conner’s deal is for $1.75 million. It is comprised of a $500k signing bonus and a $1.25 million fully-guaranteed salary. $1.75 million in all.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 14, 2021

While many Steelers fans are wishing James Conner the best and I hope he can find success in Arizona, many are still thinking how ultimately the biggest way Conner’s departure affects the Steelers is if he enters into the compensatory formula for the 2022 NFL draft.

In short, the answer is no, it will not factor into the compensatory formula. But much like the formula itself, there’s much more to it than what is set in stone at this time. Therefore, the best answer is that is it unlikely.

Based purely on the contract, Conner would not land in the top 35% of all players in the NFL at this time. Although Conner’s contract is not officially on their site, when using the numbers at overthecap.com it can be projected where he would fall.

Because the compensatory process was outlined in greater detail in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, places such as OTC can give a much more thorough detail of where players could rank. In fact, OTC has even factored into the equation the projected amount of snaps each player would have this coming season into their calculations.

Before we go to far, let’s get a quick reminder of what all enters into the compensatory formula:

  • Salary (per year)
  • Percentage of snaps played (must be over 25%)
  • All-Pro or PFWA All-Conference selections

The starting point and greatest factor of everything is a player’s yearly salary. The way it works is players are ranked from the highest salary in the league to the lowest salary in the league. Starting with the lowest salary numbered all the way up to the highest, players are assigned a point value. For example, according to OTC, Patrick Mahomes starts off with the highest salary ranking with a score of 1944.

The next factor of snaps played only applies if a player logs at least 25% of the snaps on the season on offense or defense depending on what position they play. As for kickers, they have a completely different formula which I won’t even bother with at this time. Whatever percentage of snaps a player has, those number of points gets added onto the salary ranking as long as it’s above 25%. For example, 68% of snaps played would add 68 points. Once factoring in the projected amount of snaps played, OTC has Russell Wilson topping the list due to playing an estimated 99% of the snaps this coming season.

The last factor of postseason awards would give a player 20 bonus points for making First Team All-Pro, or five bonus points for making First Team All-Conference if they were not already First Team All-Pro. These awards are wisely not estimated at overthecap.com.

Now for where players are falling at this point, I have been using an estimate of about $2 million per season in salary in order for a player to qualify as a seventh-round compensatory selection, meaning they would have to fall in the top 35% of the entire league. While this is a good starting point, what ultimately will decide where the cutoff point will be will come down to percentage of snaps played. For example, both safety Xavier Woods and center Matt Skura are possible Compensatory Free Agents (CFAs) and have yearly contracts of $1.75 million for 2021 just like Conner. Woods is currently projected as a seventh-round CFA because he is projected to play 79% of the snaps in 2022. As for Skura, he falls outside of the cutoff as he is projected to have 74% of the snaps this season. As you can see, it is a very fine line with some players when it comes down to qualifying as a CFA or not.

Another player who falls in between these two who may factor into the compensatory formula is wide receiver Justin Hardee. His salary of $2.25 million is estimated to fall outside of qualifying because OTC does not believe he will reach 25% of the required snaps. Hardee has been primarily a special teams player in his four seasons in the NFL with New Orleans and did not see any snaps on offense while logging a few snaps on defense despite being listed as a wide receiver. How Hardee is deployed with the Jets this season and if he reaches the 25% of snaps threshold will ultimately determine if he lands in the top 35% of the league.

Bringing it back to James Conner, with his current reported salary for 2021, he would need to log over 75% of the Cardinals offensive snaps this season in order to come close. If Conner were to log 85% of the snaps, he would have a much better chance of qualifying as a CFA. Throughout his career, James Conner’s most snaps played were in 2018 at 64%, so reaching the required levels are not likely. Of course, he could also be selected either All-Pro or All-Conference, but even in 2018 when Conner made the Pro Bowl he was not selected to either of these teams.

It’s hard to say if the Cardinals based Conner’s contract off of the compensatory formula. Currently, they are set to have a net loss of three players and if Conner qualifies it could cost them one of their projected seventh-round selections if it fell in the top 32 picks.

Someone might say, “Well even if Conner sneaks in, he probably won’t qualify in the top 32 selections to give the Steelers a pick.” While this is likely true, it would not be Conner who would give the Steelers another selection. Currently the addition of Joe Haeg as a seventh-round CFA cancels the Steelers lowest loss which is currently Mike Hilton as a sixth-round selection. If Conner were to qualify, the addition of Haeg would cancel Conner instead of Hilton and could give to Steelers an additional pick.

This brings up even another point as to whether or not Joe Haeg will qualify for the compensatory formula. Currently OTC has him estimated to play 36% of the snaps for the Steelers. If he doesn’t cross the 25% threshold, he would be on the cusp of falling below the cut off point. Plus, OTC has simply applied a 30% of snaps played to every draft selection, so their positions could change from where they are estimated at this time and change everything.

As you can clearly see with all these explanations, the 2021 season is ultimately going to determine where some of these CFAs fall on the list. For now, it’s all estimations. While Bud Dupree is currently ranked as the highest compensatory free agent eligible to give a team a pick, he’s only ranked ahead of Kenny Golladay because Dupree is estimated to play 78% of the defensive snaps this year while Golladay is estimated at 59%. Based on this, Dupree is only two points ahead as Golliday‘s contract was larger.

So while the estimation of compensatory draft picks for 2022 is not a perfect science, it does help give an indication. The Steelers should be in line for at least two compensatory picks at this time for 2022, but this could change. While the provision of releasing a player during the season was done away with under the new CBA, the major thing which will cause these estimates to fluctuate is the number of snaps played by each player.

The Steelers are reportedly re-signing ILB Vince Williams

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 1:03pm
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are getting the band back together, and it seems like Vince Williams is the latest member to return.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are continuing to make moves on their offseason roster up until the 2021 NFL Draft. On the same day they brought back quarterback Joshua Dobbs, it is being reported the team is bringing back inside linebacker Vince Williams.

This per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN:

The Steelers are re-signing linebacker Vince Williams, per sources. He had other offers but wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) April 14, 2021

The difference between the return of Dobbs and the return of Williams is Dobbs was an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) while Williams was a cap casualty. Nonetheless, according to Fowler, after entertaining offers from other teams, Williams wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.

In his eight seasons and Pittsburgh, Williams has appeared in 121 regular-season games with 69 starts. Starting 11 games as a rookie for an injured Larry Foote, Williams did not become a regular starter again until his fifth season in Pittsburgh. With two career interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and five passes defenses, Williams has six career fumble recoveries, 20.5 sacks, and almost 500 combined tackles. In 2020, Williams was among the top players in the NFL in tackles for loss with 14.

Williams is your proto-typical Pittsburgh Steeler. He has embraced the fan base, and the fan base has embraced him right back. Throughout his career he has had several huge moments on the field, but his tough style of play has endeared him to the black and gold fan base around the globe.

With Williams back, fans should not think his return will determine what the Steelers do, or don’t do, in the 2021 NFL Draft. Williams is a great insurance policy for the team at inside linebacker in case the draft board doesn’t fall their way and a talented defender isn’t available in the early rounds of the draft.

When financial details of this deal are released, we will have that for you right here at BTSC. In the meantime, stay tuned for the latest news and notes on the black and gold as the Steelers prepare for the rest of the offseason, and the upcoming NFL Draft.

Steelers bring back Joshua Dobbs on one-year contract

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 12:43pm
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The former Steelers and Jaguars quarterback will be returning to Pittsburgh on a one year deal.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are reportedly re-signing QB Josh Dobbs to a one-year deal per the quarterback’s agent.

This per Ray Fittipaldo, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Josh Dobbs returns to the Steelers on a one-year deal.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) April 14, 2021

And this from Dobbs’ agent, Mike McCartney:

Excited for @josh_dobbs1 agreeing to a 1 year deal with the @steelers

— Mike McCartney (@MikeMcCartney7) April 14, 2021

Dobbs was a fourth-round pick of the Steelers in 2017 out of the University of Tennessee. He spent two years with the Steelers behind Ben Roethlisberger on the depth chart before being traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars at the beginning of the 2019 season for a fifth-round pick.

Dobbs spent a year with the Jaguars before being waived at the beginning of the 2020 season, only to be claimed by the Steelers a day later. Dobbs served as a third string quarterback behind Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, seeing some time on the field in the team’s Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns where he completed four of five passes for two yards while carrying the ball twice for 20 yards.

As Team President Art Rooney II stated at the end of the 2020 regular season, he wanted to add to the quarterback room in one way or another. Now with Dobbs back on the team, he will be competing with Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins to back up Ben Roethlisberger in 2021.

The financial details of his contract have not yet been released.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for more Steelers news and notes as they continue to shape their 2021 offseason roster and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Are the health risks surrounding Caleb Farley too much for the Steelers at No. 24?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 11:50am
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

For teams who are looking for a cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft, Caleb Farley might be a prospect to keep an eye on.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of many NFL organizations who could be looking at a cornerback in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. However, unlike the other franchises who are looking to add to their defensive back depth chart, the Steelers possess the 24th overall pick.

Not really conducive to getting a top tier prospect, but after players like Patrick Surtain, there are a lot of talented defensive backs who could be available to the Steelers at pick No. 24.

There is the chance the Steelers choose to take a cornerback to bolster their depth at the position in 2021, and if Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley is available when the Steelers pick, is he an option as a first round talent? Are the health risks surrounding the talented cornerback too much for even the Steelers?

I did some digging on Farley, and put together a brief synopsis of the kind of player he is, and will be when becoming a professional. Below you’ll see draft profile breakdowns, film room breakdowns and game film for you to enjoy.

Don’t listen to me, or anyone else, form your own opinion on Farley. I plan on doing this for other prospects as the draft approaches. If there is a specific player you’d like to see covered, simply let me know and I’ll be glad to put it together!

Let us know your thoughts on Farley in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Draft Profiles The Draft Network

Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley enters the NFL after playing quarterback in high school, beginning his college career as a wide receiver, and then transitioning to defense where he shined as a cornerback for the Hokies in 2019. While he is new to the position, his film does not resemble a player that is still learning the ropes. Farley brings a rare blend of physical traits to the table in terms of size, length, quickness, fluidity, and athleticism that he pairs with exceptional man coverage skills that make him an exciting NFL prospect. Not only is he sticky in man coverage, Farley has game-changing ball skills and is an alpha in coverage. Unfortunately, his injury history is concerning. Farley suffered a non-contact ACL tear in 2017 that forced him to miss the season and then missed the last two games in 2019 due to back spasms, an issue Justin Fuente said Farley dealt with all season long. When it comes to on-the-field issues, Farley is a fairly complete prospect that is clearly ascending but sharpening his zone coverage skills would be beneficial. Additionally, he needs to develop his tackling technique to decrease an alarming amount of whiffs on tape. Farley has a full toolbox of traits to develop into a shutdown corner at the next level that can create takeaways.

Ideal Role: Starting outside cornerback

Scheme Fit: Schemes that feature large amounts of press and man coverage

NFL.com

Overview

Farley possesses rare size for the position and does an excellent job of utilizing his frame and length to charge rent inside the catch space. While his traits and ball skills will be coveted, he’s still light on overall reps at the cornerback position. He needs to continue to improve his technique and discipline as he displays inconsistencies staying connected to routes at times. Farley is an ascending talent who fits more cleanly in a press-heavy scheme. Might require early patience as he continues to gain the polish necessary to become a quality NFL starter.

Strengths

  • Big, long and can run.
  • Improved his pattern recognition later in the 2019 season.
  • Hassles receivers with length and strength.
  • Plus route redirection from zone coverage.
  • Appears to have physical attributes needed to cover mismatch tight ends.
  • Stays in phase from press coverage.
  • Stalls the release with effective one- or two-hand punch.
  • Maintains focus and positioning when tracking deep targets.
  • Shows straight-line closing speed when he opens his stride.
  • Ball skills come naturally for him.
  • Attacks on the throw are typically well-timed and extremely rigorous.
  • Takes play-side angles in challenging passing lanes.
  • Excellent use of hand-fighting and body positioning constricts catch space.
  • Has potential for rapid improvement as run defender with more work.

Weaknesses

  • Needs more coaching to improve fundamentals and technique.
  • Clunky backpedal with a tendency to open his hips too early.
  • Plays too tall, creating turbulent transitions to chase route breaks.
  • More reactive than instinctive from off-man at this time.
  • Could struggle staying connected with complex routes.
  • Average click-and-close from the top of his drop.
  • Interference penalties pop up when he doesn’t work to find the football.
  • Inconsistent balance and form as run-support tackler.
  • Some missed tackles ended up costing his team points.
Pro Football Network

Positives: Excellent-sized cornerback with outstanding speed and ball skills. Physical, jams receivers at the line of scrimmage and mixes it up throughout the route. Quick and fluid pedaling in reverse, easily flips his hips and loses nothing in transition. Stays on the receiver’s hip out of breaks, nicely covers opponents on crossing patterns, and possesses an explosive closing burst.

Effective backed off the line of scrimmage or facing the action, remains disciplined with assignments, and rarely gets challenged by opponents. Does a terrific job getting his head back around and locating the ball in the air. Works hard to get off blocks and make plays up the field against the run.

Negatives: Misreads the action and loses assignments on occasion. Instincts run hot and cold. Possesses a thin frame and must improve his playing strength. Had back surgery in March, missing pro day workouts, and may not be ready for football until later this summer.

Analysis: Farley was a terrific cornerback at Virginia Tech since his freshman season, and I’ve had him highly graded since that time. While I like Farley, I never saw him be a consistent shutdown corner during his time at Virginia Tech and believe he made a mistake opting out of the 2020 season. He’s incredibly athletic, possesses good ball skills, and comes with a large upside.

Farley comes with good scheme versatility to be used backed off the line of scrimmage in a zone scheme or in man coverage. While he will ultimately be a good NFL corner, I believe there will be bumps in the road before he gets there.

Breakdowns Game Film Other Breakdowns

QB

RB

ILB

TE

OT

CB

Podcast: Be Kevin Colbert for a night

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 11:00am

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

Everybody that follows the Steelers knows that the team has a number of needs in the 2021 NFL Draft. But not everybody knows that you can simulate a draft for the Steelers online. This will be something that we can do live together on the latest installment on the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show. You can be the Steelers GM for a day with our live, seven-round simulation.

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
  • Live Steelers Seven-Round Draft Simulation
  • 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:

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:

Steelers Vertex: What does Kalen Ballage bring to the running back room?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

As the new player in the mix, what does Ballage offer to the Steelers that they may be missing?

As the Steelers fill out their 2021 roster, there are some players added into the fold who Steelers Nation may not be over familiar with. One of those players in running back Kalen Ballage. In order to do our best to help Steelers fans get as much information as possible, Ballage will be the subject of this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

One of the more interesting numbers fans could focus on when it comes to Kalen Ballage is the number three. In three NFL season, he’s played for three different franchises. With his first two years being in Miami, Ballage split his 2020 season between the New York Jets and the Los Angeles Chargers.

Coming in with eight career starts, Ballage will be tied with the most starts at running back on the Steelers with Jaylen Samuels. Benny Snell Jr follows them up with five starts in his two seasons.

In his two years in Miami, Ballage rushed for 191 yards on 36 carries and a touchdown his first year, one of which was a 75-yard run. This helped his average come to 5.3 yards per carry. In his second year with the Dolphins, Ballage more than doubled his carries but had less yards with 74 attempts for 135 yards and three touchdowns. His 1.8 yards per carry in 2019 was uninspiring and he found himself traded to the Jets at the end of 2020 training camp for a seventh-round draft pick.

Only lasting three games in New York, Ballage was added to the practice squad of the Los Angeles Chargers after his release. After being elevated from the practice squad once, Bellage was signed to the active roster and appeared in eight games with two starts and 290 rushing yards on 88 attempts with three touchdowns.

When it comes to salary, Ballage counts less than $1 million for the Steelers for the 2021 season, and currently is not guaranteed a spot to even make the active roster. How much of a chance Ballage has to fit in with the Steelers will need to be determined based on the film.

The Film Line:

I looked at Kalen Ballage’s game where he played the most snaps, Week 11 of 2020, when Ballage’s Chargers played the Jets, where he was the Chargers primary running back. Ballage showed both his strengths and weaknesses in that game.

First off, Ballage in the run game.

2nd quarter, 15:00. Kalen Ballage is the running back.

Ballage’s film has a good number of plays where there was little opportunity to even get back to the line of scrimmage. That’s one part of the reason his average per carry was so low. The center gets beat badly here, and the end to the right side of the screen drives the guard past the ball. The run blocking was frequently worse than what we saw in Pittsburgh. Ballage had 9 rushes for a loss on the season, I watched every one, and they all involved free defenders in his run lanes, and only one looked like he missed a chance to escape.

1st quarter, 0:08. Kalen Ballage is the running back.

Ballage’s best film is when he is setting up blocks to create run lanes. You can see how his fake cut inside helps set up the blocks that allow him to gain 9 yards. While Ballage shows this ability, it doesn’t show up consistently.

3rd quarter, 0:19. Kalen Ballage is the running back.

On this run, Ballage cuts upfield and it buys time and creates the angle for the guard to get off the combo block and block the linebacker #44. Ballage doesn’t take advantage, staying inside where he is tackled after gaining 2 yards.

From this angle you can see the opening he had to break this run outside.

Ballage stays behind the center, and doesn’t see the opening his guard is creating. In the previous play where he did take advantage of the blocking he set up there is more space, on this play there is more traffic and Ballage puts his head down and follows the center.

Kalen Ballage shows some patience and vision, but not consistently. What he consistently shows is he is a runner that will take what is given him, and when he faces trouble is more likely to put his head down and run into it than try to dance out of it. He doesn’t break enough tackles to make that run style work great in the NFL, but you can see he frequently falls forward or pulls smaller defenders for a few yards.

With less production in congested running it may give the impression that Ballage is an open field runner, but that doesn’t show up either.

1st quarter, 1:05. Kalen Ballage is the running back.

A simple pass to the flat, it’s 1st and 10, and in the first quarter. There’s no reason to go out of bounds here, but Ballage doesn’t even try for more than the three yards he gets here. Once he gets moving in one direction, that’s his path as he’s not a runner who changes direction at speed.

2nd quarter, 4:52. Kalen Ballage is the running back.

Ballage doesn’t show good open field running at all, he doesn’t evade tackles, and he doesn’t break them. On this play he doesn’t even take a good angle to the sideline, he just runs into the first defender he sees.

2nd quarter, 14:26. Kalen Ballage is the receiver farthest to the top of the screen.

The New York Jets had Ballage on their roster in 2020, cutting him after a game where he missed blocks in pass protection and ran out of bounds on a play where he could have picked up the first down. You can see they respect him on the outside. Ballage moving outside pulls a safety down into man cover and leaving a single high safety deep. The cornerback covering Ballage plays him tightly, and the combination of both of those things create space for this run and catch for a touchdown.

1st quarter 7:54. Kalen Ballage is the running back.

Ballage does a great job getting to the front of the pocket to engage the blitzer. He doesn’t waiting for the rush to come to him, but intercepts it as far away from his quarterback as he can. The rest of the block isn’t great. Ballage is easily driven back to his quarterback, forcing a quick throw that falls incomplete.

The Point:

Kalen Ballage isn’t a power runner, he breaks tackles about as often as Jaylen Samuels and his 2.2 yards after contact is Samuels’ level also. He shows decent vision finding his first hole, but then largely runs straight until he’s pulled down. In open field he is a straight line runner, and ends up just running out of bounds or into a tackler. His best plays from his career so far were screen passes, where he could set up blocks in a less congested field and use his straight line speed to eat up yards.

Ballage has somewhat of a Willie Parker running style, but Willie Parker was faster and had much better acceleration. Ballage as a running back brings a guy that can follow a lead blocker or find a hole in outside zone, then run straight at that opening.

Where Ballage is intriguing is as a wingback, a position that would allow him to run with clearer lanes and also make use of his receiving ability, and in Matt Canada’s offense he could see a good bit of screen pass opportunities.

That value is very specialized, and his play as a more traditional running back isn’t clearly better than Benny Snell or Anthony McFarland. It’s possible Ballage’s chief value to the Steelers is a player who has experience playing different positions in college at Arizona State where he lined up as a receiver, running back, wingback and wildcat quarterback (his best spot in college). That brings value in training camp when the offense is being installed. If Ballage makes the roster, it will likely be more of a bad sign for the player whose spot he takes than a positive sign for Ballage.

An A-Z primer to help Steelers’ fans navigate the upcoming NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2021 NFL Draft is right around the corner, so here is an A-Z primer to get you ready for the big event.

The draft is just two weeks away, which means Mel Kiper is slicking back his hair and Roger Goodell is booing himself in anticipation. To help Steelers’ fans prepare, here’s an A-Z primer on the names, buzz words and pundit-phrases you’re likely to hear as you’re bombarded with information from here through draft weekend.

Accurate Pass Percentage (APP). This is a useful statistic that tracks the percentage of accurate throws a quarterback makes on balls that target and reach a receiver. It’s a better way of examining accuracy than completion percentage since completion percentage is affected by drops, spikes, batted balls, break-ups and receivers who bail their QBs out by making great catches on inaccurate throws. Ohio State’s Justin Fields led the nation in APP at 72.4 while Alabama’s Mac Jones was second at 72.0. The national average was 55%.

Justin Fields was the nation’s most accurate passer in 2020

Bend. “Bend” is a term often used to describe how quickly a pass rusher can redirect his upfield movement and angle towards a quarterback. T.J. Watt, for example, excels at beating blockers with speed to the outside before bending inside. University of Georgia prospect Azeez Ojulari, shown below, is considered the best pass rusher in this draft, with the ability to bend a key component of his success.

Watch Ojulari “bend” once he clears the OT to get to the QB

Contact Balance. This is a term pundits use to describe a running back’s ability to stay on his feet through contact. Contact balance is an important factor in breaking tackles outright but also in helping a back run through clutter, meaning the arms and bodies that inevitably populate most rushing lanes.

North Carolina’s Javonte Williams has tremendous contact balance. According to PFF, Williams broke 76 tackles on just 157 carries in 2020. It was the single-best season in this category since PFF began charting broken tackles as a statistic.

Williams has great contact balance, making him the most difficult back in the draft to tackle

Drill tape. The difference between drill tape and game tape can be considerable, which has led to some of the draft’s biggest busts. Matt Jones, a converted quarterback auditioning as a tight end, ran a 4.37 forty at 6’6-235, prompting the Jaguars to take him in the first round in 2005. In 1995, DE Mike Mamula lit up the Combine with a 4.58 forty, 28 reps on the bench and great athleticism in drills. That vaulted him from a projected third round pick to #8 overall. Both players were workout warriors whose drill tape created false impressions of how they’d project on Sundays. Look for Auburn receiver Anthony Schwartz (4.26 in the forty) to be a potential drill-tape riser in this draft.

Edge. The terms “Defensive End” and “Outside Linebacker” have largely been replaced by “Edge,” which indicates the player responsible for caging or spilling run plays and rushing the passer from outside the offensive tackle. The Steelers may seek an Edge to replace Bud Dupree, who departed for Tennessee in free agency. If Michigan’s Kwity Paye slides in round one, it wouldn’t be shocking if Pittsburgh took him. Pitt’s Rashad Weaver is a possibility later in the draft as well.

Kwity Paye was a disruptive force at Edge for Michigan

Fluid. Scouts love the term fluid, as in “So-and-so makes fluid transitions...” Fluid refers to a player’s ability to change direction seamlessly, the way a defensive back would when converting a backpedal into a drive on the football. The more fluid a player is, the faster he can react. Florida State corner Asante Samuel Jr., who has been mocked to the Steelers in round two, is considered one of the most fluid players in the draft.

Grades. Draft grades are now offered the moment a young player tugs the baseball cap of the team that selected him onto his head and performs an awkward bro-hug with Roger Goodell. I know we live in a microwave society where everyone wants an answer or a result immediately. But, for the love of all that is holy, can we at least let these guys get to training camp before we stamp them as superstars or busts?

(No, we can’t. I already know the answer).

Hands. There will be a lot of talk about hands over the next two weeks. Hand-size, which will be essential when evaluating quarterbacks; hand-strength, which will be important for defenders; the phrase “heavy hands,” which will be used to gauge how well a lineman strikes an opponent; and of course, the colloquial “hands” as a term for judging a receiver’s ability to catch the football. No body part will get as much attention as the hands throughout the draft process.

Injuries. Several key prospects are likely to see their draft stock drop because of them. These include Alabama center Landon Dickerson, Alabama receiver Jaylan Waddle, Syracuse safety Andre Cisco and Vanderbilt edge player Dayo Obeyingbo. How the injuries of these players affect their status will be an interesting subplot, especially in Dickerson’s case since he’s been mocked in several drafts to the Steelers.

Will Landon Dickerson’s injury history scare teams away, including the Steelers?

Justin Fields. Fields winding up in Pittsburgh would be shocking. It would take a massive trade-up into the top ten, the cost of which would be significant. And Fields, who was inconsistent at times in 2020, is not a slam-dunk to be a great pro.

That said, Mike Tomlin has raved about Fields and talked at length privately with him at Ohio State’s Pro Day. Fields is a dynamic player whose variety of skills - arm strength, accuracy, mobility, leadership - would allow new coordinator Matt Canada to unlock his playbook. Plus, with Ben Roethlisberger returning, Fields would not need to play right away, which would aid in his development. Although a trade for Fields is highly unlikely, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

Kyle Trask/Kellen Mond. Presuming the Steelers don’t shock the world with a trade up for Fields, they could draft a mid-round quarterback as a developmental prospect. They have no QBs under contract for 2022 (Ben Roethlisberger’s years are voidable after this one) and a mid-round pick would at least ensure one in-house QB.

Two names that have been speculated as mid-round options are Florida’s Kyle Trask and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond. Trask is bigger (6’5-236) and the more pro-ready of the two while Mond is versatile and may be a better fit for Canada’s offense. While I’m opposed to the Steelers using a mid-round pick on a QB, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

Florida’s Kyle Trask (left) and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond

Length. Length can be a great attribute, especially for receivers and offensive linemen. For a receiver, long arms increase a player’s catch radius, making him a bigger target for a quarterback. For an offensive lineman, good length is important in keeping pass rushers from crossing their face or turning a corner towards the quarterback. Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, for example, is a coveted player in part because his length (82 1/8” wingspan) is ideal for an NFL left tackle.

MAC. The Steelers love drafting players from this mid-major league. They’ve taken seven MAC players since 2014, as well as Antonio Brown (2010) and Ben Roethlisberger (2004). In this draft, look for speedy Western Michigan receiver D’Wayne Eskridge as a possible late-round MAC selection by the Steelers.

D’Wayne Eskridge’s game-breaking speed could make him attractive to the Steelers.

Newsome, Greg. The Northwestern corner is reportedly a potential target for the Steelers if he’s available in round one. While Pittsburgh has had little success drafting corners as of late, Newsome is a three-year starter who led the FBS in passer-rating-against in 2020 (15.77). He allowed just ten completions all season and only one that was 10+ yards downfield. He could be a nice replacement for Joe Haden when Haden’s time in Pittsburgh is through.

Newsome (bottom left) has great anticipation and closing speed.

Offensive Line. It’s no secret the Steelers need help up front. But who should they select? And when? Will a big-name tackle like Darrisaw fall to them in the first? Will they reach for another tackle in that spot, like Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins? Will they have their pick of centers in round two, like Dickerson or Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey? Or will they wait until later to address the line (as has been their habit in recent drafts) and target a player like Georgia’s Trey Hill or North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz? The intrigue of when they address the o-line, and with whom, is one of the best sub-plots of this draft for the Steelers.

Position Flexibility. One of the best attributes a player can have is the ability to be used in a variety of ways. Whether that means an offensive lineman who can shift from guard to tackle, a running back who can play in the slot or a safety who can take snaps at linebacker, these types of players are heavily valued. The NFL has become a league dominated by sub-packages and match-ups, and position flexibility allows a coaching staff to “do more with less” by slotting a single player into multiple roles.

Quinn Meinerz. Speaking of position flexibility, Quinn Meinerz, the center/guard from Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater, has been mentioned repeatedly throughout the draft process as an option for the Steelers. Meinerz can play both positions and the Steelers need help in both spots. Meinerz is a physical run-blocker who shook off his small-school stigma by dominating practices at the Senior Bowl. Meinerz could be available to the Steelers as a round three selection.

Running Backs. Here’s the other intriguing draft sub-plot for Pittsburgh. When will they address their need at running back? Will it be Najee Harris in round one? Will it be Travis Etienne? Will the Steelers try to land Javonte Williams in round two? Or will they wait until later to target a back like Oklahoma State’s Chubba Hubbard or Oklahoma’s Rhamondre Stevenson? We know the Steelers will select a running back. But who, and when, is anyone’s guess.

Separation. Separation constitutes the ability of a receiver to create distance from coverage. This is usually thought of in terms of straight-line speed. But even the fastest receivers struggle to simply run by NFL defenders. Rather, separation is best measured from break point to catch point. How much space can a receiver create from the point he comes out of his break to the point he catches the football? This type of separation defines a receiver’s ability to get open.

No receiver in this draft separates like Alabama’s DeVonta Smith. His ability to accelerate out of a break makes him almost impossible to cover one-on-one.

From break point to catch point, no one in the draft separates like DeVonta Smith

Tommy Tremble. The Notre Dame tight end is a physical player who could be the blocker Pittsburgh lacks at the position. Tremble is also athletic and could be used as a mobile H-back in Canada’s offense to fill a variety of roles. He’s a projected third round pick.

Tremble (at H-back) is a solid blocker who could line up almost anywhere in the formation

Under-rated. The draft always seems to produce players who were under-rated as prospects. Aaron Rodgers falling to the 24th overall pick. George Kittle lasting until the fifth round. Tom Brady lasting until the sixth. What players might go down as under-rated when reflecting on the 2021 draft? Two names to monitor as they develop as pros are Ohio State running back Trey Sermon and North Carolina linebacker Chase Surratt. Both are projected as late 3rd/early 4th round picks but could exceed those draft positions with the right franchise.

Value. The theory of draft value suggests a player picked in a certain slot should reflect that slot’s value. For example, someone chosen by the Steelers at 1:24 should theoretically be one of the best 20-30 players in the draft. If not, Mel Kiper will chortle something like, “The Steelers could have gotten better value with that pick.”

While there is some truth to this, I see value as follows: first and second round players should become solid starters; third and fourth rounders should make the team and contribute; and anything positive beyond the fourth round is a bonus. That, to me, determines “value,” not some theoretical discussion about whether a guy picked 35th would have been more valuable at pick 50.

Wyatt Davis. The guard from Ohio State (and grandson of Hall-of-Famer Willie Davis) was a two-time All-American who is described as one of the most NFL-ready linemen in the draft. He’s a projected 2nd-3rd round pick who, as per The Athletic, “removes defenders from their feet and looks to bury his man.” That seems an attractive trait as the Steelers attempt to rebuild their flagging run game. Davis and Meinerz would both be good choices to pair with Kevin Dotson as Pittsburgh’s guards for the rest of the decade.

Wyatt Davis (right guard) is a powerful blocker who could help Pittsburgh’s run game

X-Factor. In addition to being a great Lauryn Hill song (she calls it “Ex-Factor,” but close enough), many players in this draft will be labeled potential “X-factors” for the intangibles they offer. Etienne’s home-run hitting ability, for example, may be characterized as the “X-factor” Pittsburgh’s offense needs. Florida’s Kyle Pitts, the draft’s top-ranked tight end, has been dubbed an X-factor for how his size and speed (6’6-245/4.43) translates into a mismatch anywhere on the field. Fields has been characterized an X-factor by some for how his selection could shake up the rest of the draft. X-factor as a label adds intrigue to a prospect. Whether it means anything, of course, is for time to tell.

YAC. Or “yards-after-catch,” tracks the yardage a receiver accumulates from the point he catches the football to the point he is tackled. Amari Rodgers, whose 5’10-212 pound frame made him difficult to bring down, was a YAC-machine as a three-year starter at Clemson. Rodgers should be available in the third round if the Steelers are seeking a slot receiver to replace Juju Smith-Schuster in 2022.

Amari Rodgers’ strong build and open-field ability made him a YAC machine at Clemson

Zoom Calls. Here’s my proposed draft-night drinking game: any time Adam Schefter mentions Team X had a great Zoom call with Player Y, everyone in America has to drink. The nation will be bombed by 9 p.m.

Hope this primer comes in handy as you navigate the torrent of draft analysis heading your way. Go Steelers!

Top 5 Steelers draft-day trades since 2000: Trading up

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers have moved up almost twice as much as they have traded back in the Kevin Colbert era

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not the most active NFL franchise when it comes to pulling off trades during the NFL draft, but they certainly haven’t been shy about making a move they feel is best for their franchise. If the Steelers feel like the player they think will make a difference with their team is available, they will do what they can to go get him. Additionally, the Steelers have answered the phone when other teams have come calling in order to move up in the draft.

Let’s take a look at some of the best Steelers trades they have made since the year 2000. Sticking with this date not only because the millennium mark is a good cut off point, it is also what Steelers fans know as the “Kevin Colbert era” in the Steelers front office.

In this installment, after looking at the Steelers top five times they traded back, I’m now going to look at the top five times where the Steelers traded up in the NFL draft since 2000. In this case, there are thankfully more than five to choose from in order to figure our which trades worked out the best.

5. 2018: Trading up in the 3rd Round Received: Pick 76 (RD 3)- Mason Rudolph
Gave Up: Picks 79 & 220 (RD 3 & 7)- Rasheem Green & Alex McGough

Before the responses of “seriously?” begin pouring in, let me just list of the names of the other players selected from a trade up scenario which this one beat out: Ricardo Colclough, Daniel Sepulveda, Alameda Ta’amu, and Shamarko Thomas. With these four players starting a combined two games for the Steelers, it was obvious that Mason Rudolph should be ahead of them. Seriously, trading up in the fourth round for a punter? One of these picks never appeared in a game for the Steelers, and another was a second-round pick that never started the game.

Getting back to the actual trade the squeaked in to the top five, the Steelers traded up three spots to grab Rudolph in the third round of 2018 and surpassed the back-to-back picks of the Cincinnati Bengals. Since the Bengals were likely going to select Rudolph, the Steelers simply gave up a seventh-round pick in order to grab a quarterback they felt had a lot of potential. Additionally, this draft pick wasn’t even the Steelers as it was when they acquired from the Raiders for Martavis Bryant. With Rudolph acting as the backup in 2020 and starting half the games in 2019 for the injured Ben Roethlisberger, it’s not like it was the best trade the Steelers have ever pulled off, but was definitely better than the other options.

4. 2001: Trading up in the 2nd Round Received: Pick 39 (RD 2)- Kendrell Bell
Gave Up: Picks 50 & 112 (RD 2 & 4)- Dominic Raiola & Carlos Polk

Even though the player ultimately selected with the Steelers 50th pick ended up starting 203 games over 14 years, it’s hard not to say it was a good trade up when the Steelers selected the defensive rookie of the year for 2001. Although Bell did not have a long-term career with the Steelers due to injury, the Steelers knew there was something special with him and made the move which paid off immediately. Had Bell had a longer career with the Steelers, this trade would have been regarded even higher. What also helps the quality of this trade was the fact the Steelers had just traded back to draft Casey Hampton and added the 111th pick to the arsenal, so giving up the 112 pick was basically a wash.

3. 2019: Trading up in the 1st Round Received: Pick 10 (RD 1)- Devin Bush
Gave Up: Picks 20, 52 & 2020:83 (RD 1, 2, & 3)- Noah Fant, Drew Sample, & Lloyd Cushenberry

This trade up is so young, the story will still continue to be written. But based on the other trades, I felt it was a good spot to place it. The Steelers had not traded up in the first round for 13 years, but when they saw a player they felt could solidify their defense, they made the move to go get him. There was no chance Devin Bush was going to make it past the 10th pick, so even though it was a steep price, it appears to be worth the investment at this time. Ultimately, the next several seasons will determine how well the Steelers did with this trade.

2. 2006: Trading up in the 1st Round Received: Pick 25 (RD 1)- Santonio Holmes
Gave Up: Picks 32, 96, & 129 (RD 1, 3, & 4)- Mathias Kiwanuka, Gerris Wilkinson, & Guy Whimper

Coming off of a Super Bowl victory, the Steelers seemed to have felt that gaining a high-caliber player was worth the price in order to add to what was already a championship team. By trading away two additional picks to move up seven spots, the Steelers found the MVP of their next Super Bowl victory. With the Steelers already having two additional fourth-round compensatory draft picks as well as a fifth, it was not that steep of a price in order to go get their guy. And speaking of Guy, Whimper actually ended up spending a season with the Steelers in 2011. The Steelers also ended up trading out of the second round to pick up two third-round picks. Even though Holmes ended up having off-field troubles which ultimately had the Steelers trading him to the New York Jets, at least the pick they received in return gave the Steelers their greatest trade back of the last 20 years, if not ever.

1. 2003: Trading up in the 1st Round Received: Pick 16 (RD 1)- Troy Polamalu
Gave Up: Picks 27, 92, & 200 (RD 1, 3, & 6)- Larry Johnson, Julian Battle, & Brooks Bollinger

There are any other time the Steelers traded up in the first round in the history of the franchise, and there is this trade up. All of them ever stacked up couldn’t even become a fraction of how huge this was for the Steelers in 2003 to get to Troy Polamalu. One of the top defenders for the Pittsburgh Steelers of all time, Polamalu will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August. What’s amazing is that a player of this caliber was still there at pick 16 in order for the Steelers to go get him. Although Polamalu didn’t start any games as a rookie, the long-term results are inarguable. It doesn’t matter what the Steelers gave in return, Polamalu still would have been worth it.

So there are the top five draft day trades where the Steelers moved up in the Kevin Colbert era. What do you think? Did I get the order correct? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.

You can’t count on a computer to address the Steelers needs in a mock draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 6:00am
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

You think you can count on a computer to get it right when left to its own devices during a simulated mock draft? Think again.

They say the world will one day be totally run by computers. Some might say we’re already there. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but if the Steelers ever get to the point where they’re solely reliant upon a computer to make their annual draft selections, they could be in a bit of trouble.

I wanted to conduct this little experiment where I pretended to do my first real Steelers mock draft but, instead, I would just allow my favorite new toy—the Pro Football Network mock draft simulator—to do all the work for me. I envisioned it being just believable enough to impress some, while totally alienating others. There would be this day-long discussion in the comments section, complete with a gif or two of a person giving a thumbs up (posted by someone who approved) or maybe the one with the rhino taking a huge dump (posted by someone who disapproved).

I would then write a follow-up article about how I really had nothing to do with making these selections, and that maybe you should take every mock draft you read on the Internet with a grain of salt. (You know, like a smug jerk?)

I tried and tried to come up with a mock draft that was just plausible enough to believe, but after about 30 attempts, the simulator never produced one that wouldn’t have had you thinking it was a late April Fool’s joke by the third round.

A few started off well. Some had the Steelers taking Alabama running back Najee Harris, Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey or Texas tackle Samuel Cosmi in the first round. However, instead of addressing another need in the next round, the selection was almost always an edge, outside linebacker or defensive tackle. Speaking of which, the draft simulator had the Steelers using their first-round pick on one of those three positions so many times, I thought maybe PFN was the victim of some sort of malware attack.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted it to be a little off the beaten path so as to get people to question my reasoning, but nobody was going to believe that I—the need over value guy—would ever select Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. And even if some people did enjoy that selection, they certainly weren’t going to be pleased with the fact that I used rounds two and three to take quarterbacks—including Stanford’s Davis Mills (Round 2) and some other guy whose name I forget because of all the damn simulated mocks (Round 3).

I finally gave up after the last one that started off fairly well before crashing and burning. I wrote all the names and trades down to give you an idea of what I mean. Below is the last simulated draft in its entirety:

Round 1 (26th, overall): Creed Humphrey, center, Oklahoma

This selection would have been believable coming from me, a person who has been on the stump about center being the Steelers’ biggest need for quite some time. Accepting a trade with the Browns to move down two spots wouldn’t have been believable, however.

Round 2 (55th, overall): Tyson Campbell, cornerback, Georgia

Again, not necessarily bad. I’m not totally sure how everyone would have felt about Campbell’s value as a second-round selection, but one could have seen the logic in the Steelers, a team that just parted ways with both Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, making corner a top priority. The only problem you may have had by this point in the draft was the decision to pass on Javonte Williams in the first round when Najee Harris and Travis Etienne were already gone. (Williams was taken by the Patriots at 46.)

Round 3 (87th, overall): Amon-Ra St. Brown, receiver, USC

You may have smashed your smartphone at this point, especially considering Stanford tackle Walter Little was still there for the taking.

Round 4 (110, overall), Ihmir Smith-Marsette, receiver, Iowa

This was the extra compensation the Steelers received in the trade with Cleveland, and they used it to take yet another receiver. Not only did the Steelers, a team with four talented, young receivers, take one in back-to-back rounds, they selected Smith-Marsette instead of Ohio State running back Trey Sermon, who was drafted one spot after this. (The rhino gif would have been working in overtime, for sure.)

Round 4 (128, overall): Tony Fields II, ILB, West Virginia

Considering the love for Zaven Collins and the uncertainty about Robert Spillane, this would have actually made sense.

Round 4 (140, overall): Adetokunbo Ogundeji, EDGE, Notre Dame

I don’t know how good this guy is, but I know he’s not a running back (and it took me two hours to spell his name right).

Round 6 (216th, overall): Jonathon cooper, EDGE, Ohio State

The Steelers sure did address their depth issues at outside linebacker in this draft. Hopefully, one of them can put on enough weight to also play offensive tackle.

Round 7 (245, overall): Buddy Johnson, linebacker, Texas A&M

Is Johnson an inside or outside linebacker? It doesn’t matter.

Round 7 (254, overall): Nick Niemann, another linebacker, Iowa

“I can’t believe Tony is lashing out at his readers again.”

There you have it in all its confusing glory.

So, in a simulated draft where I let the simulator do all the work for the Steelers, it didn’t address offensive tackle, running back or tight end.

What’s the moral of the story? I really don’t know, other than it’s probably a good thing the Steelers still have human beings making their selections.

James Conner bids farewell to the Steelers, and the city of Pittsburgh

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 5:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Eerie, PA product bids farewell to his hometown, and his first NFL team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost another free agent Tuesday, and it was one of their own. When I say one of their own, I’m speaking more to the city of Pittsburgh. When it became news James Conner had signed with the Arizona Cardinals, it ended a journey of not just 8 years, but with many twists and turns.

It was Conner, the Eerie, PA native, who attended the University of Pittsburgh before being drafted by the Steelers in the 2017 NFL Draft. But as everyone knows, it goes much further than just a university, or an NFL organization.

Conner’s bout with cancer was well known, and well publicized across the football landscape. The UPMC Hospital systems helped get Conner back on the football field, back to full health, cancer free and now onto his second contract in the National Football League.

For that, and likely so much more, Conner was more than thankful. He took to his verified Twitter account to share his gratitude to the city of Pittsburgh, and by proxy the Steelers, for his time.

No one more grateful for the city of Pittsburgh than me. The last 8 years been building and molding me into the man I am today. Excited for what’s ahead but truly thankful for all the love and support during my best moments and most difficult times. pic.twitter.com/DpYmRjRBV2

— James Conner (@JamesConner_) April 13, 2021

While the Steelers look to move on, Conner now turns his attention to attempting to play football outside of western Pennsylvania for the first time in almost a decade. We here at BTSC wish Conner nothing but the best, and know we speak for the vast majority of the black and gold fan base in the process.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the rest of NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: Is this Ben Roethlisberger’s last go-around?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/14/2021 - 4:30am

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

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers agreed to continue their working relationship back in February. How much longer will he be at the black-and-gold helm? Could 2021 be Seven’s swan song? 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
  • How pre-draft trades will affect the Steelers draft plan
  • 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.

The Steelers have done a good job navigating the reduced salary cap

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 1:30pm
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In an unprecedented year, the Steelers have done what they needed to do while keeping cap casualties to a minimum.

The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers looked to be in serious trouble in February. With the salary cap set to go down for the first time in NFL history, and the Steelers up against what the salary cap would have projected to be without the 2020 global pandemic, they were one of many NFL teams who were having to do unprecedented things in order to become and maintain salary cap compliance.

Although there were a number of things that were not ideal as ghey had to make tough decisions, the Steelers managed to get under the salary cap and still have room to work as they head into the NFL draft. According to my latest estimate, the Steelers are $11.25 million under the salary cap at the moment.

Going from around $30 million over the salary cap to start the offseason to more than $10 million under the cap, the Steelers did have to make some hard decisions. They were aided in some moves by the two retirements of Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey. Had neither play retired, chances are the Steelers would have had to make additional cuts. To date, the only players the Steelers have had to release were linebacker Vince Williams and cornerback Steven Nelson. Combined, the Steelers shaved just under $12 million off the salary cap after figuring roster displacement.

With the Steelers having over 20 unrestricted free agents this offseason, some of their “cuts” were simply not having the ability to re-sign a number of their players. The Steelers simply didn’t have anywhere close to enough money to re-sign Bud Dupree at the price he received from the Tennessee Titans. While Tyson Alualu was a player many thought the Steelers would retain, he initially agreed to return to the Jacksonville Jaguars. But after the Steelers surprisingly were able to bring back JuJu Smith-Schuster, they also convinced Alualu to return since he was unable to travel to Jacksonville to sign his contract due to testing positive to COVID-19.

Ateelers also lost Mike Hilton and Matt Feiler, neither of which was shocking. Retaining cornerback Cam Sutton was a nice bonus, but Steelers fans did not realize it could lead to Steven Nelson becoming a cap casualty.

The Steelers have done some limited signings from outside of the organization with offensive lineman Joe Haeg, special teams ace and safety/linebacker Miles Killebrew, and running back Kelan Ballage. None of them were flashy signings, but the Steelers did add some players who could help cover some areas of need.

The absolute biggest jump to the Steelers salary cap situation was the return of Ben Roethlisberger at a discounted rate. With Roethlisberger taking a $5 million pay cut, he was able to save the Steelers about $15 million against the salary cap by adding void years to his contract.

Speaking of void years, once the Steelers open Pandora’s box by using them for the first time with Roethlisberger‘s contract, they have now become a useful tool this offseason. Cam Sutton, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Eric Ebron now have deals which include void years. By using them, the Steelers have pushed more money towards the 2022 salary cap, but at the moment they have some future money to spare.

The Steelers did restructure the contracts of Cameron Heyward and Derek Watt in order to save some money as well. As of yet, the Steelers have not restructured Stephon Tuitt and Chris Boswell. But they’ll be more on that later.

So after all these moves, the Steelers currently have enough money under the salary cap for even the things they will need come Week 1. The only question is if the Steelers will make some more moves and free up some cash in other places or if they’ll just ride with the players they gain in the NFL draft heading in the training camp.

One thing which is very interesting to note is that other than Ben Roethlisberger, every contract the Steelers reworked in some way this offseason was with a player who was signed under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. I’ve mentioned it a number of times, and there are still people on social media who think that this isn’t actually a thing, but they would be completely wrong. It’s going to take some different movement of the numbers for the Steelers to either extend a player, or restructure anyone’s contract from the old CBA.

The prime example is Stephon Tuitt. I outlined almost two months ago exactly why to his contract had not been restructured because of the addition of a 17th game.

Now that the NFL knows the 17th game is going to happen, the Steelers know what they need to do in order to pull off these contracts. It just might not be desirable. If Tuitt were to restructure down to the league minimum for the season, it would cost him over half a million dollars in lost salary which wouldn’t be paid by the Steelers and would not count towards the salary cap. With restructures generally giving players the same amount of salary, the Steelers would have to either expect Tuitt to take the pay cut, or they would have to give him a higher signing bonus then what he would have been owed by the team on a normal restructure. The reason this is a problem is because that new money would now count against the salary cap when under his current structure it would not.

If this sounds confusing, I highly encourage you to read the above referenced article for a better understanding.

The Steelers have been smart holding off on these moves where they would not get the maximum salary cap savings due to provisions from being under the old CBA. It’s another great way they have managed the salary cap this offseason. While the Steelers could use the money, why cost yourself more towards the cap by restructuring these players when you don’t have the need to do it yet? If something else presents itself and the Steelers need the cap space, then make the deal. But there’s no need to kick the can down the road, especially if they can gets a little bigger with these types of deals, until it is absolutely necessary.

From a cap-crunching standpoint, I feel the Steelers have done a real nice job this offseason. Would it have been nice to save more money in order to make a little bit of a splash in free agency? Absolutely. But with it being such an unprecedented situation for many teams around the NFL, I don’t blame the Steelers for not doing so. Hopefully the moves they have made, along with the upcoming 2021 NFL draft, will give the Steelers enough on their roster to be competitive each week of the NFL season.

Mock Draft: Mel Kiper’s latest 2-round mock has the Steelers getting a RB and OT

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 12:00pm
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers get two positions of need in the latest Mel Kiper Jr. 2021 NFL mock draft.eed in the latest M

The Pittsburgh Steelers have several team needs entering the 2021 NFL Draft, and because the team isn’t looking at just one, or two, possible positions they want to take with their first round selection, the board is pretty open.

In other words, the Steelers could seriously take a number of players who are deemed the best player available when it is their turn to pick. While the NFL Draft is a three day process, the first two days are the days which get the most attention, and rightfully so. Draft picks in Round 1 and 2 are expected to be contributors in Year 1, so everyone is watching what happens at the beginning of the draft process.

It is the time of the mock draft season when people start to put together multi-round mock drafts, and this includes ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. In the latest Kiper mock draft, he selects the first two rounds for all NFL teams.

Check out who he has going to the Steelers at picks. No. 24 and 55:

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

The Steelers could go with an offensive lineman here, as center Maurkice Pouncey retired, tackle Matt Feiler left in free agency and free-agent tackle Alejandro Villanueva is still unsigned. But I’d love to see Harris in this offense to take the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He could grind down defenses as a runner and help in the short passing game. If Harris goes in Round 1, he’ll be the fifth Alabama running back picked in the first round since 2000. The others: Josh Jacobs (2019), Trent Richardson (2012), Mark Ingram (2011) and Shaun Alexander (2000). Notably absent is Derrick Henry, who was a second-round pick in 2016 and somehow just had an underrated 2,000-yard campaign.

Now onto the Steelers’ second round pick, pick No. 55:

55. Pittsburgh Steelers

Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State

After I gave the Steelers a running back in Round 1, here’s another selection to help quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Radunz started 32 games for the Bison and was a two-time FCS All-American. He stood out on tape when I studied Trey Lance — he just swallowed FCS edge rushers. As it stands, Pittsburgh will have new starters at both tackle spots, so this pick is about creating competition there.

What do you think of these selections? Would you be pleased if this is the Rounds 1 and 2 haul for the Steelers? Or do you think they should target other players/positions? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft and the rest of Free Agency.

The Arizona Cardinals continue to pile up former Steelers, this time James Conner

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 11:01am
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals are called “Pittsburgh West” for a reason.

There is a reason the Arizona Cardinals organization has long been called “Pittsburgh West”. Going back to when former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was the head coach, the Cardinals have always seemed to stock pile former Steelers on their roster.

Names of players who played for the Steelers, and went to the Cardinals is a long one. Players like:

Bryant McFadden
Max Starks
Marcus Gilbert
Jarvis Jones
Rashard Mendenhall
William Gay
Alan Faneca
Joey Porter

The list could go on, but there is a new name to add, and that is James Conner. According to FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer, the former Steelers running back is heading west.

The @AZCardinals continued to pick up veteran free agents as they have signed former Steelers RB @JamesConner_ one day after he flew in for a visit. @NFLonFOX

— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) April 13, 2021

Conner is one of the few remaining Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) of the Steelers lengthy free agent list. The other big name still out there is left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Will this impact the Steelers’ compensatory pick formula?

A lot goes into that...

Until the amount of the contract is known, it can’t be determined if the loss of Conner will help the Steelers when it comes to the compensatory formula for 2022. According to overthecap.com, a player’s annual salary would have to be at least $2 million per season in order to land in the top 35% of the league and qualify them as a compensatory free agent. This is before any playing time in 2021 would factor into the equation.

Conner, who played his college football at the University of Pittsburgh and is from the Eerie, PA area, was a fan favorite for multiple reasons. His battle back from cancer in college was remarkable, and he turned a dire situation into an NFL career. He was a Pro Bowl running back, and despite his injury history I think I speak for all Steelers fans when I say we all wish him the best of luck.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the rest of NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.

Podcast: How many position groups on the 2021 Steelers defense are fixer uppers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 11:00am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo look at the week that was and the Steelers going forward.

With the draft less than a month away, the Steelers are in good shape in some positions and needing help in others. Which position groups are fixer uppers and which are market ready? Last week, we covered the offense, it’s time to talk about Keith Butler’s defense this time around. This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast, The Steelers Hangover. On this show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran duo as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Which Steelers defensive position groups are market ready in 2021?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

2021 NFL Mock Draft: Recap of the 7 Round Live Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Let’s take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers haul in the mock of all mocks

Over this past weekend, myself an about 30 fellow draftniks held our annual live draft. This is the same live draft that has taken place here at Behind The Steel Curtain, as well as a few other SB Nation NFL sites. Unfortunately, our draft was moved from SB Nation due to a couple of reasons, but mostly because of the inability of CORAL to handle the high volume of comments that we would have.

So, one of our veteran drafters created a place at DISCORD and THE LEGACY MOCK DRAFT was created. I’m not going to lie, the site is great, there were multiple rooms used for various things such as a Free Agency period that was created on the fly, but the process still needs refining. It’s very unrealistic, but it still was a fun exercise. Learned a little about the salary cap and contract structures from a very knowledgeable Vikings fan.

I was able to sign:

  • Yannick Ngakoue
  • Mike Hilton
  • Tyson Alualu

There was one other signing, but the room was removed and I can’t remember who it was. With that said, let’s get on to why we are really here, the results of The Legacy Mock Draft, and who was taken for our Pittsburgh Steelers.

Round 1: Pick 24 - Travis Etienne RB Clemson

I went into Friday thinking that there could be a defensive player that I couldn’t pass on. I was actually thinking that maybe Jaycee Horn (#13 pick) or maybe Jaelen Phillips (#9 pick) would be available, so much for that. As commissioner, I did not have time to attempt many trades as there is a pile of work to do behind the scenes. I would have liked to have traded up to get Christian Darrisaw (#20 pick) or even Caleb Farley (#21 pick) who had cleared his medical check. I also thought that if I drafted a running back at No. 24 it would be Javonte Williams, and yes that was in consideration, but Travis Etienne was available and I feel he may fit Canada’s system better in the long term. I did not hesitate to send in the pick.

Round 2: Pick 55 - Pat Freiermuth TE Penn State

What you say? No Tackle?

The run on Offensive Lineman started and it didn’t let up. Watching some of my expected Round 2 picks go off the board along with the run of Tackles I was left with “Baby Gronk” and I was happy as hell when I went back to my board and he was still available. I had to check with my ADMIN crew and make sure I didn’t miss marking him off my board. There was one tackle left and maybe, just maybe, I should have picked him, Liam Eichenberg was still there. Even with the recent injury, Freiermuth was my pick and I got one of my crushes and even if some won’t admit it, a future TE is needed.

Round 3: Pick 87 - Cameron McGrone ILB MICHIGAN

I think this is a pick that will draw the most “boooooos” like the crowd at the draft when Ole Rog walks across the platform to his podium. I have been on record as wanting a ILB with some length, and yet I draft a guy that is barely over six foot tall. I think he is underrated as a football player that fits in with what the Steelers do. He is a three down backer that is decent in defending the run game. Looking at who was available, I really wanted to add Nico Collins, but the offense already had two picks. I also considered Pete Warner here.

Round 4: Pick 128 - Robert Rochell CB Central Arkansas

The Steelers lost two starting corners during the off season process, Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton, both playing different positions. Pittsburgh also retained Cameron Sutton, the question remains where will he fit best? I don’t know. For as much as I battle with that idea I battled with this pick. I think the position overall needed addressed, but what position, inside or outside? I chose outside. He is overly aggressive, but his play style fits with our scheme, can play press but also is better at off ball.

Round 4: Pick 141(comp) - D’ante Smith T/G East Carolina

Finally an Offensive Lineman, but it isn’t a Center or top rated Tackle. I have him listed as both Tackle and Guard because I can see him getting his feet wet inside before possibly moving to the outside in the future. He has a quick set coming off the snap and decent feet. Great arm length, but he is light in the shorts. He is gonna have to had about 15 - 18lbs at the next level.

Round 6: Pick 216 - Marquez Stevenson WR KR PR Houston

I can hear the moans and groans now over this pick. Yes the Wide Receiver room is stacked, especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster returning. The Steelers also signed Ray-Ray McCloud back, so why the need for another Wide Receiver or ST Returner? One, I believe in competition, I don’t think McCloud has shown enough to just give him the job outright. The sketchy catches are concerning and the return game isn’t the greatest, not all his fault but it still needs improvement. Two, it just seems a natural fit into the new system as a utility player. He is dynamic in the slot and on the move. He wasn’t used correctly in Houston’s offense, in my opinion.

Round 7: Pick Pick 245 - William Bradley-King EDGE Baylor

This is my least favorite pick, but the Steelers could use some depth behind a somewhat depleted room. He offers up decent length and strength in his hands, along with solid hand work. Run game needs improvement, does not contain well, but I think coaching and positioning can improve that. Most likely a pass rush option only early on.

Round 7: Pick 254 - James Smith Punter Cincinnati

Never been a fan of Berry as a punter, too many important situations that turned south for me. This guy can boom it, and he is Australian, so this pick was for Les.

I will be glad to answer any questions and participate in the discussions. Interested in hearing what you think.....or maybe not. We are also doing an UDFA segment at THE LEGACY, so I will pass that on as soon as that takes place and as always GO STEELERS

The link provided will give you a full look at the draft.

CLICK HERE

DISCLAIMER: The pick numbers are off in the DRAFT TRACKER, Pick 77 of the Patriots was actually forfeited and left in to poke fun at New England and getting caught cheating. The Bengal sideline video taping.

Quinn Meinerz could be this season's Kevin Dotson for the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 8:30am
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

2021 NFL draft prospect Wisconsin Whitewater Center Quinn Meinerz shares plenty of similarities to last season's Steelers rookie standout Kevin Dotson.

Without a doubt, the Pittsburgh Steelers enjoyed a hugely successful 2020 NFL Draft class, especially when you factor in the fact they were without a first round selection. That first round selection was utilized to acquire Free Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins in the early stages of the 2019 NFL season. When you consider that Fitzpatrick then becomes the Steelers first round acquisition that makes last season's draft haul one of the best in franchise history.

Multiple starters from a single draft class is always impressive; with every selection not only making the roster but seeing meaningful minutes at some point through the season. That accomplishment is rare for a cellar dweller franchise with plenty of holes throughout their roster, unheard of for a 12-4 division winner. It was the type of draft class that solidifies the foundation of a franchise for years to come, especially if they are fortunate enough to follow that exceptional draft class up with another.

Unfortunately, based on the Steelers current situation and depth chart at critical positions, that is exactly what the Steelers need to do once again in the 2021 NFL Draft. They need another home run of a draft to replenish the roster. If the Steelers are able to accomplish a repeat performance in that regard, they should be able to contend for a playoff spot, even with the toughest schedule in the league.

One of last season's biggest surprises was OG Kevin Dotson from Louisiana with their 2nd pick in the fourth round. Dotson graded out no better than a career backup by many draft pundits, only capable of developing into a starter in a favorable scenario under ideal conditions. He was so lightly regarded that he wasn't even invited to the Scouting Combine, and the NFL actually had one last season. Not only did Dotson prove to be a underestimated diamond in the rough, he was easily and instantly the Steelers most powerful run blocker.

This year the Steelers desperately need a talented young lineman to continue their unmatched legacy of superior performances at the center position after the retirement of Steelers great Maurkice Pouncey. There is yet another unheralded small school prospect climbing up draft boards around the league that is captivating scouts and GMs alike with his talent, bravado, and backstory. His name is Quinn Meinerz, a center prospect from Division III Wisconsin Whitewater.

Meinerz is one of about five or six center prospects in this year's draft that I feel have starter caliber potential somewhere down the line in their professional careers, making for a solid center class. However, he is considered a bit of a unknown by some NFL personnel due to the level of his collegiate competition, and how he is relatively new to the center position after playing predominantly at guard for the Warhawks.

Maybe it's just me, but I see alot of similarities between Kevin Dotson and Quinn Meinerz. So much in fact that it wouldn't shock me in the slightest to learn that the Steelers are secretly enamored with Meinerz, enough to select him in the third or fourth round if the situation arises. It also won't surprise me if he ends up having a similar impact to the one enjoyed by the aforementioned Dotson last season.

Dotson and Meinerz both have the rather unique ability to make other large individuals move in a particular direction against their will. They accomplish this task through extraordinary strength and an impressive understanding of how to utilize leverage efficiently. They both are incredibly physical and strive to punish the opposition each play.

Both young men have the prototypical physique of a interior offensive lineman. They even utilize what can only be described as unconventional workout regimens and routines. Dotson likes to push and pull trucks around to work up a sweat, which probably makes blocking a mere mortal seem rather mundane. Meinerz; who has a wrestling background, has the long locks and look of a professional wrestler. His persona is a larger than life outdoorsman, who enjoys finding creative ways to turn his surroundings into a personal workout.

Just like with Dotson, the draft evaluations on Meinerz are all over the place. Most love his competitiveness and physicality, but question his overall athleticism. One publication claimed he is top heavy with a tendency to over reach on block attempts, leading to an excessive amount of time on the ground. Funny thing is I heard the exact same thing about Dotson prior to last year's draft. Looking back over their individual evaluations the similarities were staggering and prompted the desire to write this article.

Most pundits believe that Meinerz will be a starting center in the NFL eventually, maybe even as soon as the end of his rookie season. There are sure to be growing pains due to the step up in competition, but the talent is there. I wrote in my Grading the Pick article after Dotson's selection that he would need a redshirt type of season in the NFL, but he would have the opportunity to contribute at some point down the road after some fine tuning. Boy, was I ever wrong on that one. He was the Steelers best lineman last season, by a large margin.

If the Steelers also see the similarities between the two young men that I do, then Meinerz would bring excellent value in the third round in my opinion. Meinerz meets the criteria for a Steelers standout center, considering his warrior mentality and leadership qualities on and off the field. He is reportedly a high character young man by all accounts.

The Steelers have made their desires known that they are determined to rebuild their running game by improving their talent and power along the offensive line. Kevin Dotson was an impressive first step in the right direction. Could Meinerz be a continuation of the trend?

Steelers NFL Draft Fits: Looking at the Quarterbacks

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

Kevin Smith and Geoffrey Benedict discuss draft prospects and how they would fit with the Steelers

In part one, we looked at a handful of tight ends, how we thought they would fit with the Steelers and if they would be worth the investment.

In this article, we will look at the quarterbacks in this class and give our thoughts on them.

TIER ONE: QBs the Steelers (probably) have no shot at

Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

Kevin: One of the beautiful things about being a Steelers’ fan is we generally have no idea what it’s like to have the #1 overall pick in the draft. That speaks to the success of the organization in the Super Bowl era. The last time we did have the top pick I was in diapers. We aced that one, taking Terry Bradshaw. Having the #1 pick doesn’t need to produce four Lombardi trophies, the way Bradshaw’s selection did. But it does need to yield a player who can drastically improve your franchise.

Trevor Lawrence is that player. People can nitpick all they want about the talent around him at Clemson or about how he doesn’t go through his progressions fast enough. But anyone who watched his performances on the biggest college football stages the last few years knows that this kid is the real deal. He’s got all the skills and intangibles. He’s an athlete, a leader and the face of a franchise. He’s a guy you take with the top overall pick in the draft.

Jacksonville is bad and Lawrence will struggle for a bit. But I will be shocked if, within a few years, the Jags are not significantly better than they are today because Lawrence is their quarterback.

Geoff: Lawrence is absolutely the #1 pick. He’s going to have a great career. I don’t think he’s an all-time great quarterback like a lot of people seem to think he is, but he’s the clear choice at #1, and that makes him irrelevant to the Steelers.

Zach Wilson (BYU)

Kevin: It’s hard to get past the fact Zach Wilson looks more like he belongs in the Cobra Kai posse than he does leading an NFL offense. But Wilson has all the tools to be a legit franchise quarterback. He has a big arm, is incredibly accurate (he completed nearly 75% of his passes in 2020), is mobile enough to play outside the pocket and has a Baker Mayfield-like cockiness that endears him to his teammates. The knocks on Wilson are that he’s not huge (6’2-210) and he had two serious injuries in college, leading to questions about his durability. He also was a bit of a one-year wonder, although the injuries surely hampered his overall production.

My question about Wilson is this: is he better than Justin Fields? The Jets seem to think so. They are poised to take him with the second overall pick. Wilson is talented, no doubt about it. But personally, I’d take Fields. More on that in a minute.

Geoff: Wilson has the chance to be the best QB in this class. He makes those Josh Allen/Ben Roethlisberger throws that other quarterbacks just can’t make. He also makes throws that no quarterback should make. I like his movement in the pocket better than Lawrence, and that will help his transition to the NFL. He’s got a big ceiling and a low floor, could be the bust of the class or viewed as better than Lawrence in a few years, I like the comparison to Baker Mayfield, but I think Wilson has the ability to make throws Mayfield can’t.

Justin Fields (Ohio State)

Kevin: Geoffrey, I’ve heard through the grapevine you’re a Michigan guy. Are you capable of objectively evaluating Justin Fields or does your hatred of all things OSU disqualify you from this conversation?

Geoff: Ohio State quarterbacks suck, and Urban Meyer quarterbacks suck. But Justin Fields was a transfer from Georgia who played for Ryan Day, and succeeded without Ohio State’s usual top WR talent to make him look good. Fields is the perfect player to break the streak. What do you see him bringing to the field Kevin?

Kevin: That was far less bitter than I anticipated. As for Fields, there’s so much I like about him. His performance against Clemson in the national semi-final was one of the most complete games by a college quarterback I’ve ever seen. And he did it while not fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered in the Michigan game. He’s a tremendous competitor.

Specifically, three things about his game stand out. First, he throws a great deep-ball. Second, he’s incredibly accurate. He had the highest percentage of accurate passes (72.4%), meaning balls-on-target, in the nation last year. And third, he moves really well. Fields would be great for Matt Canada because Canada could open the entire playbook, including designed QB runs, RPOs, read options, play-action, sprint outs. His combination of arm strength, accuracy and mobility make him a perfect match for Canada.

Fields has also done these things on the biggest college stage, unlike Wilson and Trey Lance. I struggle to understand how those QBs are constantly rated above Fields by evaluators. Must be the “Ohio State QBs suck” thing Geoffrey referenced.

Geoff: That’s honestly the most common argument I hear against him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good, people just need to consider that there are systems that make quarterbacks look better than they are. That happens in the NFL too, I mean, look at Andy Reid’s results over the years. Doesn’t mean Patrick Mahomes isn’t a great quarterback just because he also excels in Andy Reid’s offense.

TIER TWO: Guys the Steelers could shock us with in round one

Trey Lance (North Dakota State; would likely take a trade-up to get him)

Geoff: Man, it would make all our jobs at BTSC easy if the Steelers drafted Trey Lance. Jeff Hartman would write 20 articles a week about Lance and most of it would just be hysterical giggling. All joking aside, Trey Lance has some serious play-maker in him. I also don’t think he shows consistency in his game with decision making and accuracy. Does he look worth a trade up to you Kevin?

Kevin: He does not. I think Lance is an intriguing prospect. He has lots of potential. But if I’m the Steelers I’m not trading up for potential. There are just too many holes to fill elsewhere to forfeit that kind of capital on a kid who last played meaningful games in 2019 as a sophomore at an FCS school. Lance is too big of an unknown for me. If I’m trading up for a QB in round one, it’s for a known quantity. That means Fields if he somehow slides. And even then I’m thinking long and hard about doing it.

Mac Jones (Alabama)

Kevin: Jones and Kyle Trask have both been mocked to the Steelers at 1:24, even though many believe either would be a reach in round one.

Jones was fantastic in his lone year as a starter at Alabama, leading the Tide to a national title. He was accurate, poised and came up big in Bama’s biggest games. Of course, Jones played behind the best offensive line and had the best skill players at his disposal in all of college football. The question that looms over him, then, is whether he was a catalyst for that success or a mere cog in Nick Saban’s machine?

Geoff: Jones shows a lot of college quarterback skills, but I don’t see a lot of NFL quarterback skills. He doesn’t have the mobility to buy himself time, and he doesn’t show the anticipation on throws that I want to see. To me Jones is a mid-round QB that is getting first round hype because of the team he was on. He was a very good cog for Nick Saban, the kind of college quarterback that can lead a great team to a championship, but I don’t see him succeeding in the NFL. Is there anything that stands out about Mac Jones to you Kevin? Because I don’t see it.

Kevin: If we take Mac Jones with our first round pick my eight year-old son will learn a slew of profanities.

Geoff: Ha, I see we are on the same page on Mac Jones as well. . .

Kyle Trask (Florida)

Kevin: Trask is a big, strong QB who reminds me a lot of Mason Rudolph. Quite honestly, I don’t see why the Steelers would want him with Rudolph already on the roster. Geoffrey, what do you think?

Geoff: I like Trask. I like his work in the pocket, I like a lot of his throws. There’s also some plays that leave you scratching your head. Trask suffers draft-wise because we are used to the top quarterbacks being on teams that dominated opponents. I honestly can’t see Mac Jones being considered better than Kyle Trask, and I don’t think Kyle Trask is a sure bet. I wouldn’t lose my mind if the Steelers drafted him like I would Jones though.

TIER THREE: Possible mid-round developmental picks

Kellen Mond (Texas A&M)

Kevin: Mond is an interesting name because there are those who’ve speculated the Steelers could select him as a mid-round developmental pick. Before we evaluate him, let me ask something. Whether it’s Mond or anyone else, what are your thoughts on the Steelers spending a 3rd or 4th round pick on a QB this year?

Geoff: I can see it, the Steelers have been walking the line between maximizing Ben’s last seasons with preparing for the future, and nothing says doing things half-way like drafting a mid round quarterback. I think it would be a waste, with Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins on the roster right now, I’d rather the Steelers see what they have there without investing a valuable pick on competition for backup QB. Last year the Steelers drafted Alex Highsmith and Kevin Dotson in the third and fourth rounds. I’ll take more of that please. On the other hand, Kellen Mond is a really intriguing prospect, I think he’d be a great fit for Matt Canada’s offense, what do you see Kevin?

Kevin: The middle rounds are right for someone to take Mond. He is talented but maddeningly inconsistent. He can look like Zach Wilson one series and Zach Galifianakis the next. Mond has had a ton of reps so his inconsistency isn’t about inexperience. It’s likely the product of failing to process information quickly. He screams developmental pick - a guy who can sit and learn for 2-3 years before he has to play.

If this were two years ago, I’d be excited for the Steelers to take a shot at Mond. Not this year, though. Why draft another mid-round developmental QB? It’s a waste of a valuable pick. They took Josh Dobbs and then Rudolph and they signed Haskins. They can’t keep stock-piling guys who might make good backups. The next QB they bring in needs to be someone who can replace Roethlisberger. If that’s a trade up for Fields if he falls, so be it. I would understand that thinking. Drafting another mid-round backup? No thanks.

Jamie Newman (Wake Forest)

Geoff: Newman mentioned he’s talked to the Steelers a good bit, and as a projected day 3 pick, could be a good value pick. Newman had an impressive 2019 campaign, transferred to Georgia but opted out without ever playing for the Bulldogs. Newman has a strong arm and moves well in the pocket, but he is a year removed from the only season he did anything, and at the Senior Bowl overthrew a lot of passes. With the quarterback room the Steelers currently have, would it be worth spending a 5th or 6th round pick on a quarterback you would want to try and stash on the practice squad?

Kevin: My thoughts on Newman are similar to those on Mond. Nice developmental pick, he could become a backup or a situational QB for someone. Mond will be gone earlier though, and I don’t want the Steelers drafting a QB with a meaningful pick. If Newman is still there in the 6th, I’d be ok if they grabbed him. The draft is a craps shoot at that point, anyway. Just not sooner, please.

Conclusion

Here’s how we’d rank these QBs as candidates for the Steelers:

Kevin:

Lawrence and Wilson are probably going 1-2, so forget those two. And I’m not interested in Jones or Trask. As for the rest:

  1. Fields. If he drops into the teens, the Steelers should consider trading up to get him. It would be expensive but such is the price for a perceived elite QB. They could start by inserting him into small packages to get his feet wet as he learned the offense. Over time he would allow Canada to unlock the entirety of his playbook.
  2. Lance. If he were somehow still there at 24, it would be tough to pass him up. I wouldn’t trade up to get him, though. Just too much unknown with all of that potential.
  3. Mond/Newman. Late, like if they’re somehow still there in the 6th round.

Geoff:

  1. No QB drafted. I don’t want a quarterback this year, go with the three you have in the room, let things sort themselves out. You can always lose for one year if you don’t have a QB and get a higher pick to make your QB move. You can’t just take the 4th or 5th best QB and demand that they be great.
  2. Jamie Newman, fifth or sixth round. At that point in the draft if you want to take a project QB, go for it.
  3. Kyle Trask, 2nd round. He’d have to fall to the second to be worth it, but I think he would be a good quarterback for Matt Canada to develop.
  4. Wilson, Lance or Fields, trade up into middle of round if one fell really far. they shouldn’t come anywhere near the Steelers, but Ben Roethlisberger shouldn’t have fallen out of the top 5, let alone to 11. If one fell toward the middle of the round and the Steelers pounced on them, I wouldn’t complain too much, because if they did work out the pick would be a steal, but really, there are bigger needs.
  5. Kellen Mond, third round. This is the one that makes the most sense to me, and it would be at a high enough level of investment to kick Haskins off the roster. Still. . . meh.
  6. Mac Jones, any place before the 4th round. I’m sorry if you are a Mac Jones fan, he’s a nice story and a great college QB, but he’s not going to be anything special in the NFL, he might be a Mason Rudolph, but honestly I think he’s worse.

2021 NFL Draft: Latest Pro Day news and rumors which could shape the Steelers’ plans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft, and these Pro Day results could impact how they view specific prospects.

We are less than three weeks away from the NFL Draft, and the 2021 pro days are now in the books. Even though NFL personnel have been on hand to get official times at each pro day this year, it will be interesting to see how much weight each team puts on these numbers.

Before we get into the headlines, I want to emphasize one thing about these times. It seems as if the different fields are having a major impact on the times. For instance, we expected Ja’Marr Chase to run well, but I am not sure that we were expecting a 4.38. We definitely did not expect to see Terrace Marshall run a 4.41, as many thought that he would run in the mid 4.5s. Almost everyone ran better than expected at LSU’s pro day, but it was the exact opposite at North Carolina’s pro day. Michael Carter and Dyami Brown were expected to run in the 4.3s, but they both winded up with times in the 4.4s. Chazz Surratt was expected to run around 4.5, and he nearly ran a 4.6. Javonte Williams’ game speed made many think that he would run in the low 4.4s, but he ran a 4.55. Those times are not terrible, but they were not as good as expected.

All of that to say, let’s keep the different fields in mind when we see everyone at a certain pro day running either faster or slower than expected.

Today, we will not only take a look at the noteworthy results from the pro days, but we will also dive into draft rumors, some of which have major implications on the Steelers.

There are too many prospects to cover all at once, but if there is a player not mentioned in the article that you would like to get the pro day results for, mention their name in the comment section, and I will see if I can dig it up.

Zaven Collins Maintains 1st Round Status

Collins was expected to put on a show at his pro day, and he did not disappoint. Nobody expected him to run a blazing 40 time. He was expected to run in the high 4.5s or low 4.6s, and he ran an official 4.67. The time was slightly slower than expected, but he made up for it with his excellent fluidity in the on-field drills. He leaped 35 inches in the vertical and recorded a 122 inch broad jump as well, which are both solid for a man his size. Is he going to run down receivers and running backs 30 yards down the field? No, but he is not that type of player. If he can sure up his tackling, he will be a very solid linebacker for years to come. I would be very surprised if he fell out of round one.

Steelers Reportedly High on Spencer Brown

We know how the Steelers love guys with excellent physical traits in the early rounds, and Spencer Brown certainly fits that category, running a 4.94 in the 40, jumping 31.5 inches in the vertical and 117 inches in the broad jump, and recording a 6.99 in the 3-cone drill. On the “Draft Insiders” with Trey Wingo (I will miss his expertise on draft coverage at ESPN) and Tony Pauline, Pauline reported that the Steelers really like Brown and that he could be a target for the Steelers in round two. The only problem with Brown is that he does not use his length well. It is definitely a fixable issue, but he did not play at all in 2020. The only thing we have seen from him since 2019 was his lackluster Senior Bowl performance this past January. The traits are there, but he is not a polished product and will require a year or two of sitting on the bench and developing before he can be looked at as a viable starting option.

Mac Jones the Favorite at No. 3

When San Francisco made the move up to the third pick in the draft, I thought that Trey Lance made the most sense. However, Adam Schefter has said that he would be surprised if the pick was anyone other than Mac Jones. Tony Pauline said that it is not a foregone conclusion that Jones is the pick, but most insiders seem to think that he will be the pick. While some may not see why the 49ers would trade up all the way to three to select a guy that many thought could still be available in that 10-12 range, it seems as if the league is higher on Jones than the media is. Jones is an elite processor, which is something that Kyle Shanahan values in his quarterback. I would not rule out Lance or even Fields, but it seems as if Jones is the favorite.

Nico Collins and Jacob Harris Shine at their Pro Days

The wide receiver position is incredibly deep, and the pro day results across the board only confirmed that. Two of the receivers with the best workouts, however, were Nico Collins of Michigan and Jacob Harris of UCF. Collins opted out of the season, but he was an excellent deep threat and a contested catch monster for the Wolverines in 2019. Despite lackluster quarterback play, he was the best and most reliable pass catcher that Michigan had. At Michigan’s pro day, the 6’4”, 215 pound Collins recorded a 4.42 in the 40, a 37.5 inch vertical, a 125 inch broad jump, and an 6.71 in the 3-cone drill. Because of opting out, Collins will probably not be taken day one, but he could be the steal of the draft if he falls outside the top 50 picks.

Harris, on the other hand, is not considered to be a prospect that will be taken early in the draft. However, he has scouts going back to the tape after his incredible workout. At 6’5”, 219 pounds, Harris recorded a 4.39 in the 40, a 40.5 inch vertical, 133 inch broad jump, a 4.31 in the 20 yard shuttle, and an insane 6.54 in the 3-cone drill. Based on traits alone, he is worth a flier in round six or seven, and it would not surprise me at all if he went even higher.

Kentucky’s Defensive Studs Rise to the Occasion

Jamin Davis and Kelvin Joseph were not on the radar of the casual fans two months ago, but people are definitely intrigued after their impressive pro days. Davis is a slow processor, but he is only a one-year starter. That will hopefully get better as he gains experience. He was expected to test well, and he did not disappoint. Davis ran an impressive 4.47 in the 40 while also recording impressive vertical and broad jumps at 42 inches and 132 inches, respectively. He has moved into the late first round discussion and could potentially be taken ahead of Zaven Collins.

As for Kelvin Joseph, he held up very well against some of the best receivers in the SEC last season but was still flying under the radar until a couple months ago. Because of Kentucky’s defensive schemes, Joseph is more experienced in zone coverage, but he has proven that he can hold his own in man coverage as well. He was expected to run well, and he did exactly that when he ran a 4.34 in the 40. His 35 inch vertical, 128 inch broad jump, and 4.22 20 yard shuttle are not too shabby either. I realize that the Steelers are not great at drafting corners, but if Joseph is available at 55, he may be difficult to pass on.

Smaller School Prospects Make Their Mark

Mac McCain III and Patrick Johnson are two of my favorite sleepers headed into the draft, and they raised some eyebrows after their pro day performances. Let’s begin with McCain. I loved his aggressiveness and physicality in coverage when I watched him, but I was not sure how well he would test at his pro day. Come to find out, he did quite well, running a 4.45 40, recording a 35.5 inch vertical, 123 inch broad jump, 4.12 in the shuttle and 6.94 in the 3-cone drill. He may not even get drafted, but if he is available in round seven or in undrafted free agency, he would be an excellent addition to the Steelers secondary.

Johnson was a reliable pass rusher and excellent run defender for Tulsa, and the more I watch of him, the more I like his game. Although he has great length and decent bend around the edge, his most underrated quality is power. He plays bigger and stronger than what his 240 pound frame would indicate. He will still likely be a day three pick, but it should definitely be early day three after his pro day performance. Johnson recorded a 4.59 in the 40, a 35 inch vertical, and a 6.97 3-cone drill. If he falls to day three as expected, the team that drafts him is getting a steal.

Other Pro Day Numbers

Pete Werner (Keep an eye on him in round 3) | ILB | Ohio State | 6’3” | 238 lbs | 40: 4.58 | Vertical: 39.5 | Bench: 20 reps| 3-cone: 6.95
Trey Sermon | RB | Ohio State | 6’0” | 215 lbs | 40: 4.57 | Vertical: 37 |3-cone: 6.83
Deon Jackson | RB | Duke | 5’11” | 218 lbs | 40: 4.41 | Vertical: 36 | Broad:122
Elijah Mitchell | RB | Louisiana | 5’10” | 201 lbs | 40: 4.38 | Vertical: 38 | 20 yard Shuttle: 4.19 | 3-cone: 6.94
Nick Bolton | ILB | Missouri | 5’11” | 237 lbs | 40: 4.59 | Vertical: 32 | 3-cone: 7.40
Dicaprio Bootle | CB | Nebraska | 5’10” | 180 lbs | 40: 4.38 | Vertical: 36.5 | 20 yard shuttle: 4.03 | 3-cone: 6.77
Derrick Barnes | ILB | Purdue | 6’0” | 238 | 40: 4.57 | Bench: 29 reps | Vertical: 37
Rondale Moore | WR | Purdue | 5’7” | 180 | 40: 4.29 | Bench: 24 reps | Vertical: 42.5
Kene Nwangwu | RB | Iowa State | 6’0” | 212 | 40: 4.29 | Bench : 22 reps | Vertical: 37 | Broad: 125 | 20 yard shuttle: 4.13 | 3-cone: 6.75
James Wiggins | S | Cincinnati | 5’11” | 209 lbs | 40: 4.40 | Vertical: 38 reps | Broad: 127
Gerrid Doaks | RB | Cincinnati | 5’11” | 228 lbs | 40: 4.58 | Vertical: 39.5 | Broad: 120 | 20 yard Shuttle: 4.27
Kary Vincent, Jr. | CB | LSU | 5’10” | 185 lbs | 40: 4.36 | Bench: 8 reps | Vertical: 35.5
Brandin Echols | CB | Kentucky | 5’10” | 179 lbs | 40: 4.34 | Vertical: 42.5 | Broad: 136 | 20 yard shuttle: 4.12 | 3-cone: 6.84
Racey McMath | WR | LSU | 6’3” | 217 | 40: 4.34 | Vertical: 35.5
Brock Wright | TE | Notre Dame | 6’5” | 257 lbs | 40: 4.62 | Bench: 26 reps | Vertical: 31.5 | Broad: 122
Aaron Robinson (Keep an eye on him if he falls to pick 55) | CB | UCF | 5’11” | 186 lbs | 40: 4.39 | Vertical: 37 | 3-cone: 6.89
Jalen Mayfield | OT | Michigan | 6’5” | 326 lbs | 40: 5.31 | Vertical: 28.5 | Broad: 96 | 20 yard shuttle: 4.91
Camaron Cheeseman | LS | Michigan | 6’4” | 239 lbs | 40: 5.03 | Bench: 17 reps | Vertical: 33
Ambry Thomas (Keep an eye on him in round four) | CB | Michigan | 5’11” | 191 | 40: 4.37 | Vertical: 38 | Broad: 122
Chris Evans | RB | Michigan | 5’11” | 211 lbs | 40: 4.44 | Bench: 20 reps | Vertical: 40.5 | 20 yard shuttle: 4.14 | 3-cone: 6.56
Nick Niemann | ILB | Iowa | 6’3” | 234 lbs | 40: 4.45 | 20 yard shuttle: 4.14 | 3-cone: 6.67
Ellerson Smith | EDGE | Northern Iowa | 6’7” | 252 | 40: 4.74 | Vertical: 41.5 | Broad: 127

Podcast: The Impact of the NFL’s Draft Round Position Continuum

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/13/2021 - 4:30am

In the latest podcast on the BTSC family of podcasts, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers and their draft plan for 2021.

The Steelers are looking at many different positions in the first round of the NFL Draft? But how does choosing one position affect the rest of the team’s selection process? Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck on the latest edition of The Live Mike as he helps Steeler Nation navigate through the 2021 offseason.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • First Round possibilities and the effect on the rest of the draft
  • and MUCH MORE!

Michael Beck of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Men of Steel.

Check out 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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