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Justin Layne selected as the Steelers’ ‘A+ pick’ of the 2019 NFL Draft class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 2:18pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a very stellar 2019 draft class on paper, but one pick topped the others in terms of importance.

The 2019 NFL Draft is over, and now begins the evaluation process. Not just for the players selected, but also the positions which were targeted, etc. There are a myriad of angles you can approach evaluating a draft class, and recently the fine folks here at SB Nation went through all 32 NFL teams and selected which pick they thought to be their ‘A+’ draft pick.

Many would expect the writers to select the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first round draft pick Devin Bush as their A+ pick, think again. No, it was third round selection Justin Layne who was considered the team’s best pick.

See what SB Nation had to say:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Getting Joe Haden’s apprentice. The veteran cornerback only has a year left on his contract, but he has an understudy in third-round pick Justin Layne. The Cleveland native watched Haden playing for the Browns and will soak up advice from Haden like a sponge.

If the purpose of this exercise is to pick which of the nine Steelers’ picks would be playing, and making an immediate impact, right away, Bush would certainly be the front-runner for this award. However, when it comes to a complete evaluation, position, value, etc., it is hard to disagree with Layne as the pick.

After the NFL Scouting Combine Layne’s stock rose notably to the point where some experts saw him as a potential late first round draft pick. He fell to the third, despite a great combine and measurables, and the Steelers were able to reap the benefits.

Layne is expected to be the heir apparent for Joe Haden on the outside, and the former Cleveland city product has the look, on paper, as the first player since Ike Taylor who could solidify the secondary for not just a few seasons, but for years on end.

When you look at the team’s top draft picks, who would you give the A+ grade to? Remember, it isn’t all about the prospect, but what was done to obtain him, what kind of positional need the team has etc. Let us know your thoughts in the live chat, and if you agree or disagree with those experts at SB Nation.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 offseason workouts/OTAs set

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 12:40pm

It may be the offseason, but there are some important dates fans should know as the team prepares for the 2019 season.

The NFL calendar ebbs and flows throughout the passing months. After the season concludes in early February, there is about a month where no news takes place. Then comes free agency and the start of the new league year. With the ramp up in news, the league eliminates any slow periods by making the regular season schedule release an event, and this all leads up to the NFL Draft.

What is next?

After the draft each individual team starts their three phases of Organized Team Activities (OTAs). Phase one consists of mainly strength and conditioning. No coaches, other than the strength and conditioning coach, and no real drills being run. This phase takes two weeks total.

Phase two coaches are allowed to coach and work individually with players, but still not contact or pads of any kind. No offense vs. defense, and no helmets or one-on-one drills allowed. This phase takes three weeks total.

Phase three is the one which garners the most attention. Here are the details for Phase three of the offseason workouts:​

  • 4 weeks total
  • 3 weeks for 10 total OTA’s
  • A maximum of 3 OTA’s each week for the first 2 weeks
  • During Weeks 1 & 2 a 4th non OTA workout is allowed but phase two rules apply
  • A maximum of 4 OTA’s for the 3rd or 4th week
  • One week for mini camp
  • No pads except protective knee and elbow pads, helmets are permitted
  • No live contact
  • 7 on 7, 9 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills will be permitted provided no live contact takes place

With all this said, the Pittsburgh Steelers have set their dates for their OTAs, rookie and veteran minicamps. Check out the dates, per the team’s official website:

Steelers Rookie Minicamp Schedule:

Friday, May 10 - Day 1

Saturday, May 11 - Day 2

Sunday, May 12 - Day 3

Steelers OTAs Schedule:

Tuesday, May 21 – OTA #1

Wednesday, May 22 – OTA #2

Thursday, May 23 – OTA #3

Tuesday, May 28 – OTA #4

Wednesday, May 29 – OTA #5

Thursday, May 30 – OTA #6

Monday, June 3 – OTA #7

Tuesday, June 4 – OTA #8

Wednesday, June 5 – OTA #9

Thursday, June 6 – OTA #10

Steelers Minicamp Schedule:

Tuesday, June 11 – Day 1

Wednesday, June 12 – Day 2

Thursday, June 13 – Day 3

The projected date for the Steelers to report to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA is July 25th, but this has not been confirmed by the organization at this time. With the calendar ready to move to May, the boys of fall will be back on the gridiron before you know it.

If Diontae Johnson becomes a good slot receiver, his third-round selection will be worth it

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 11:33am

The Steelers chose receiver Diontae Johnson with their first pick of the third-round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Some say he only has the attributes to play inside—or the slot. But if he’s a good to great slot, his rather lofty draft selection will be worth it.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the Steelers first pick on Day 2 of the 2019 NFL Draft, one that came in the third round (66th, overall), was considered by many to be “practically a second-round pick.”

I say that because the Steelers have made it a habit in recent years of leaving their fans shocked (and not awed) upon hearing the name of their second-round draft choice.

Yes, whether it’s been Jason Worlds, Marcus Gilbert, Sean Davis or even JuJu Smith-Schuster, that first Day 2 pick has often left a lot to be desired—at least in a “I can’t believe they passed on (insert that year’s version of Chase Winovich here) to reach for that guy!” kind of way.

The latest Day 2 draft pick to leave fans questioning the scouting abilities of Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Co. is Diontae Johnson, receiver, Toledo. This was the guy Pittsburgh chose with its first pick in the third round which, as has been stated, was practically a second-round pick.

When you research the top rated receivers going into the draft, you can understand the concern; Johnson doesn’t show up on most lists—at least not until well after the first 10 or so.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Johnson will be a bad player, only that he didn’t really check off a ton of boxes scouts are looking for when evaluating receiving prospects.

For starters, Johnson played in the MAC conference, meaning he didn’t really go up against the cream of the college football crop. Yes, Antonio Brown played at a MAC school (Central Michigan), but it would be unfair to not only Johnson to point that out, but to the fans opposed to the pick. Obviously, a sixth-round draft choice out of a tiny school that goes on to have a Hall of Fame career is an outlier. So it’s a bit disingenuous to use that in any sort of pro-Johnson argument.

Also, according to Johnson’s NFL.com Draft profile, he didn’t exactly test well at the Combine, and if he can’t test well vs. himself, how can he play well vs. athletes from elite conferences such as the SEC?

So, the concerns for the Johnson selection are valid.

In addition to his college competition and Combine testing, Johnson’s size and speed are also a concern; at 5’ 10” and 183 lb, and with a 40 time in the 4.5 range, he seems too small and a little slow to play outside, which means he’s best suited for the slot. Is a receiver with slot size and speed worthy of a third-round pick? Heck yeah......especially in today’s NFL.

When you read Johnson’s strength’s courtesy of his official draft profile, phrases like “Has “look-out!” talent with the ball in his hands” stand out. Another is “Twitchy mover from whistle to whistle.”

Those attributes seem perfect for a slot receiver who wants a chance to excel at the next level.

It may seem strange to use a third-round pick to select a receiver whose skill-set and ceiling figures to place him firmly in the slot role, but times in the NFL, they are a changin’. How often do teams employ three wide-outs on any given play? Quite a bit. And maybe that’s why slot corners are now much more valuable than they were years ago, with teams using premium draft picks in-order to find really good ones.

Slot corners are practically starters, and what are they doing with most of their reps? Covering slot receivers.

All one has to do is study the career of Tom Brady and how he’s spent most of it terrorizing opposing secondaries by finding the receiver in the slot over and over and over again to know how big of a weapon a player like that can be.

The Steelers do have a couple of decent slot receivers in Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer, but there’s a big difference between decent and “Holy heck, why is he always so wide open?”

Going back to Johnson’s resume. He had three touchdowns of over 80 yards in 2018 (one receiving, one on a punt return and one on a kickoff return). That means he has the potential to go the distance any time he has the football in his hands.

It’s safe to say Rogers and Switzer don’t possess that kind of “look out!” ability.

The Steelers can use such a talent in the slot, not to mention on their return teams.

Johnson may have been a bit of a reach at number 66 (although, it’s fair to point out that NFL.com did project him to go in the third round), and he may have a ceiling as a slot receiver. But really good slot receivers make life miserable for opposing defenses. Great ones become superstars.

Even if Diontae Johnson only pulls off the former, drafting him in the third round will be more than justified.

Scouting the Steelers 2019 NFL Draft picks: LB Ulysees Gilbert III and OL Derwin Gray

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 10:14am

We take a look at the scouting reports written about the Steelers last two picks of the draft earlier in the offseason

With their final two selections of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers added Akron linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III and LSU offensive lineman Derwin Gray, two players who may have a better chance of make the final roster than their draft position would suggest.

When reading the scouting reports written about them ahead of the draft, the experts appear to see two players who could yet become solid contributors at the NFL level if they can improve the noted deficiencies in their game. And while a strong training camp in Latrobe could possibly see them on the 53-man roster come opening day, the practice squad is their more likely destination.

Ulysees Gilbert III, Akron

Lance Zierlein, NFL.com:

“Productive SAM linebacker who will need to prove himself as an undersized WILL or MIKE on the next level. Gilbert is an instinctive run defender with a natural feel for maneuvering around big bodies to find his food, but despite his three-down ability, has a disappointing number of lapses in coverage. His lack of size, strength and versatility could make landing on a roster an uphill battle.”

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report:

STRENGTHS

Standout performer at the East-West Shrine Game who turned heads at his pro day with 40-yard times in the low 4.5 range.

Sure thing as a tackler who rarely lets running backs leave his grasp.

Productive tackler who can play any of the three linebacker positions after lining up on the strong side at Akron but showing the athleticism to move around.

Fast enough to cover up tight ends or backs in coverage.

High-effort player who has the speed to run clean angles to the ball and slip blockers.

WEAKNESSES

Undersized linebacker at 6’0”, 224 pounds and with 31 3/4” arm length.

Doesn’t have the power to stack and shed blockers.

Will be put on skates when he attempts to step into the hole and take on a blocker.

Length and power are below average for the NFL. Might have to play at weak-side linebacker to keep him away from lead blockers.

Lacks awareness at the MAC level.

OVERALL:

Ulysees Gilbert III is a good athlete with the movement skills to attack the ball and run in man coverage, but he’s a project who must gain strength while also working on better read-and-react skills from his perch at linebacker. He has immediate special teams value.

GRADE: 5.15 (ROUND 7 - BACKUP CALIBER) PRO COMPARISON: Matt Milano

Tony Pauline, Draft Analyst:

Pos:

Slightly undersized run-and-chase linebacker who makes a lot of plays on the ball. Athletic and covers a lot of area on the field. Gets depth on pass drops and shows sideline-to-sideline speed. Breaks down well, uses his hands very effectively and makes a lot of plays in space. Stays with coverage assignments, displays solid ball skills and plays to his 40 time. Forceful on the blitz, displays outstanding skill in pursuit and wraps up tackling.

Neg:

Struggles to get off blocks and gets easily slowed through the trash. More of a drag-down tackler.

Analysis:

Gilbert is not a big or stout linebacker, but he’s a pursuit defender with next-level athleticism. He was terrific during Shrine Game practices and turned in a dominant pro-day workout, and he has positioned himself as a potential late-round choice.

With pick 207 in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Steelers select Ulysees Gilbert III, LB, Akron.

Ulysees Gilbert III posted a Great #RAS with V.Poor size, Elite speed, Elite explosiveness, Okay agility at the LB position. pic.twitter.com/lc3FmM5w7i

— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2019

With the 207th pick in the 2019 #NFLDraft – the Pittsburgh Steelers select Akron LB Ulysees Gilbert III! pic.twitter.com/LVCzpSqxTd

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 27, 2019

Video highlights:

Derwin Gray, OL, Maryland

Lance Zierlein, NFL.com:

“Teams love big tackles with movement skills, but Gray offers a little more challenge for evaluators. His lack of bend causes deficiencies in sustaining blocks and in landing blocks on the move. However, in pass protection, he makes good usage of his size and his length and he might be able to hang in as a left tackle rather than the assumed push to the right side because of his size. He could go from solid to good as a starter if an offensive line coach can improve his consistency in the run game.”

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report:

STRENGTHS

Thick build from top to bottom and has the barrel-chested frame scouts want. Beyond that, he uses his size (6’4”, 320 lbs) well and will throw his weight around in both phases when needed.

Good ability to engage his lower back and butt to anchor versus power in pass protection.

Jarring punch in pass protection that stuns defenders when it lands square and can immediately give him the upper hand in one-on-one reps.

Pulls his hands quickly after his punches and can throw them again with good timing and placement to stay active throughout the entire rep.

WEAKNESSES

Lateral agility is poor, and slanting defenders will easily cross his face in the run game. Pass-rushers with decent counters will routinely be able to set him up to be unable to recover.

Clunky mover out in space who puts a tremendous amount of stress on his lower-body joints by not running with a particularly efficient style.

Does not have the overall ability to adjust his track in space and cut off second-level defenders who have a read on the play.

Grip strength in his hands is a concern, and he’s rarely able to snatch defenders and control them from start to finish in the run game.

OVERALL

Derwin Gray comes with size and power that will put him in the discussion for a spot on a roster as a rookie. His movement skills may entice teams to move him to the right side where they can feature him as a tackle with power and a brutish playing style. He’s got an NFL future for sure, but the ceiling will entirely be up to his ability to develop above-average footwork technique that masks some athletic deficiencies.

GRADE: 5.60 (ROUND 5 - BACKUP CALIBER) PRO COMPARISON: Tom Compton

Tony Pauline, Draft Analyst:

Pos:

Large, surprisingly athletic tackle with good lateral blocking range. Quickly gets off the snap and keeps his feet moving and his hands active. Bends his knees, works to block with leverage and makes good use of angles. Displays footwork off the edge, jolts defenders with explosive hand punch and rides rushers from their angles of attack. Quick, strong and takes defenders from the action on running downs. Very explosive and works to finish blocks.

Neg:

Lined up at left tackle but may lack the footwork to stay there at the next level. Must learn to finish blocks. Overcommits and gets beaten by inside moves.

Analysis:

Gray was a solid college lineman who showed consistent progress in his game. He possesses the size and strength to develop into a starting right tackle at the next level if properly coached.

With pick 219 in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Steelers select Derwin Gray, OT, Maryland.

Derwin Gray posted a Poor #RAS with Okay size, Okay speed, V.Poor explosiveness, V.Poor agility at the OT position. pic.twitter.com/N1WZaJP1qG

— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2019

With the 219th pick of the 2019 #NFLDraft – the Pittsburgh Steelers select Maryland OT Derwin Gray! pic.twitter.com/YXnFAHNryS

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 27, 2019

Video highlights:

Post-Draft Stock Report: For the Steelers, Ryan Shazier cannot be replaced

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 9:03am

The Steelers found a potential franchise player in Devin Bush, but they can never replace the man who preceded him

Last Thursday evening, the Steelers vaporized my brainstem by packaging together a triad of draft picks and sending it westward to acquire Denver’s first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. They subsequently used this pick, the 10th overall selection, to draft Devin Bush, a dynamic and multi-talented inside linebacker from Michigan who a non-zero number of Draft Knowers proclaimed to be one of the two or three most talented players in the entire prospect pool. Naturally, Bush’s inherent dynamism drew—and to this point has repeatedly drawn—favorable comparisons to Ryan Shazier; a player who, if we’re using sheer athletic prowess as a measuring stick (and it’s my blog, so I’m gonna), was among the league’s uppermost echelon of inside linebackers.

He “was” as in “when he was healthy” as in “before he suffered a brutal and catastrophic spinal injury during a game, which was broadcast to a national audience.” Shazier, as you are undoubtedly aware, has spent the past year and a half laboring intensely in order to re-learn the various physical mechanisms that made him such a covetable NFL prospect in the first place. The fact that he’s now walking at all is a testament to the marvels of modern medicine, but that he’s performing dead-lifts and box jumps a mere 18 months after being rendered temporarily paralyzed—and I say this without a shred of hyperbole—is remarkable and awe-inspiring.

Ryan Shazier is hellbent on one day returning to professional football, and, if that’s truly what he desires, I hope he does. The Steelers, to say nothing of the NFL more broadly, almost certainly feel likewise, as Shazier’s return would punctuate the comeback tale to end all comeback tales, a story of heartbreak, perseverance, and redemption. (In other words, there is profit to be made in leveraging Shazier’s heroics.) But the Steelers are nothing if not pragmatic, and on draft night they kept the grim but probable eventuality that Ryan Shazier may never return to professional football at the forefront of the decision-making process, which in turn led them to trade up in order to draft the player they wanted.

This is more than fine. Being adept in coverage is a baseline job requirement for inside linebackers, so drafting Bush would’ve made sense even if Shazier had never gotten injured in the first place. Much like pass rushers and cornerbacks, you can never have too many hybrid linebackers. But what kinda rubs me the wrong way is the way the word “replacement” is being used to discuss the circumstances that led to Bush’s recruitment. Ryan Shazier cannot be replaced, not his corporeal presence nor his specter. Devin Bush understands this as well as anyone.

“I think Ryan Shazier was a great player, still is and I hope to see him soon,” said Bush. “I wish all the best to Ryan Shazier with his recovery and I know he’s going to do well. I know he has the heart to and has the will to – he will be back.”

“I’m just ready to be Devin Bush. I’m not trying to compare myself to Ryan Shazier or anybody else. I’m going to come in and be Devin Bush.”

(That’s a PR-engineered response, of course, but the sincere candor with which it was delivered leads me to believe that Bush is a genuine and thoughtful young man.)

I know that Devin Bush has yet to play a single down, but I’m already impressed.

[Steps down from soapbox]

Stock report!

Stock up: The linebacking corps

Some actual analysis: Bush is awesome. Nearly everyone who regularly visits this blog had Bush on their wishlist, so the Steelers trading up 10 spots to get him feels like the pre-preseason equivalent of winning the Super Bowl.

What’s so great about Bush is that, in all likelihood, we’ll get to see him make an immediate impact. It’s easy to envision the Browns or Ravens or whoever pitching the ball outside on 3rd and 3, Bush diagnosing the play, selecting his angle of attack, and walloping the back into another plane of existence well short of the line to gain. I can imagine Bush feigning blitz, only to drop back in coverage and snare an interception, a tangible reward for his exemplary deceit. I can picture, vividly, Bush running downfield stride-for-stride with some beefy tight end and swatting the pass safely away at the last second.

With Bush, along with incumbent Vince Williams and newcomer Mark Barron, the Steelers finally have a respectable-looking inside linebacker corps, one that is versatile enough to do everything that Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator will ask them to do.

Stock down: Safety depth

Notably absent from Pittsburgh’s draft haul was a safety, which is a frightening development when considering that the depth chart includes Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield (horrendous), and Marcus Allen (who has never played a down in the NFL). (They signed something called Dravon Askew-Henry as an undrafted free agent, but that hardly counts as “addressing the position.”)

What’s interesting, though, is that Tomlin suggested that both Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton can play safety. I am totally into this idea! The Steelers currently find themselves with a surfeit of cornerbacks, so it makes sense that they’d toy with the idea of moving them around. Artie Burns is trash as a cornerback, but maybe he totally rules as a safety. It could be that Artie Burns is the next Ed Reed!

Of course, there exists the possibility that the Steelers neglecting to draft a safety was them hedging their bets that a veteran safety from another team will be released down the line.

Stock up: Big Ben

Diontae Johnson is an undersized and under-recruited but nonetheless talented and explosive receiver from the MAC. Hmmm...

Stock down: Benny Snell

I love that the Steelers picked Benny Snell, but I am very dubious of his enlistment yielding any observable results. Since 2014, when Le’Veon Bell emerged as a superstar, Mike Tomlin has steadfastly refused to adopt a running back by committee approach, instead opting to let one lead dog handle the bulk of the backfield duties. James Conner is a lesser version of Bell, but he’s still capable of doing a little bit of everything extremely well, so as long as he’s healthy, he will handle an overwhelming majority of the backfield touches. Snell is a nice player; I just question his utility.

What I would like to see happen is this: Conner remains the lead back, responsible for maybe 60 or 70 percent of the touches out of the backfield; Snell, meanwhile, handles the remaining 30 or 40 percent and Jaylen Samuels is moved to H-back or tight end. This will not happen.

Stock down: Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry

Not surprisingly, the Steelers signed a pair of specialists from the post-draft scrap heap. Boswell and Berry are gonna have to earn their jobs this summer.

Stock down: The Steelers

I’m not really in the business of handing out draft grades, but I think the Steelers did pretty well. Not drafting a safety, in my opinion, is completely bonkers and irresponsible (I look to round four, in which the Steelers passed on highly-regarded safety Deionte Thompson in favor of Snell, a player who, as mentioned above, may struggle to find playing time in his rookie season), but trading up to snag Bush was a home run and both Johnson and fifth-round pick Zach Gentry could play very prominent roles in 2019. This isn’t about what the Steelers did or failed to do, but more about what the Ravens and Browns, the Steelers primary competition in the AFC North, managed to do.

The Browns, despite not having a first-round pick, got a player in Greedy Williams who a number of pundits and Draft Knowers pegged as first-round talent. They did well to address other positions of need with their remaining picks (their fifth-round pick, Mack Wilson, is a player I loved a whole bunch) and built promisingly on what on paper is one of the three or four most-talented rosters in the AFC. The Ravens, meanwhile, rounded out their offense by drafting two potential starters in Marquise Brown and Ben Powers as well as big-bodied receiver Miles Boykin and speedy running back Justice Hill. I was disgusted by the Hill pick, because he working in concert with Lamar Jackson is going to present some logistical difficulties. For good measure, the Ravens drafted Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley, who some analysts suggested could play a Julian Edelman-type role for Baltimore. That’s the worst sentence I’ve ever written.

The Steelers’ foremost concern obviously should be getting back on track after falling apart down the stretch last season and making the most of Big Ben’s fleeting prime years, and that’s a mighty task in an of itself, but the Ravens and Browns made it that much harder.

Benny Snell Jr. may be the hidden gem of the Steelers 2019 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 7:57am

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected nine players in the 2019 NFL Draft

With the dust having settled on the 2019 NFL draft, we can begin to get a picture of how the Steelers fared. No one really knows how our picks will perform but we all have our prejudices and preconceived notions. Here are three of mine:

1. Devin Bush will provide the ingredient our defense has been lacking — namely, speed to the football at the second level — since Ryan Shazier’s terrible injury. He is a tough, instinctual linebacker who will solidify the Mack position for years to come.

2. Receiver Diontae Johnson won’t make people forget Antonio Brown but he won’t be a disappointment, either. He is far more polished than James Washington was at this point and he has a skill set — quickness off of the ball and the ability to make people miss in space — that Washington, Donte Moncrief and even Juju Smith-Schuster lack. Johnson won’t be an All-Pro but I will be surprised if he’s not successful here.

3. And finally, if you like James Conner, you’re going to love Benny Snell Jr. He is an old-school running back and a perfect compliment to Conner. He may not see the field as much as some of his rookie classmates but his presence on the roster could make him one of the most valuable players in Pittsburgh. Here’s why:

POWER FOOTBALL

In an article I wrote in the run-up to the draft , I advocated trading up to select tight end T.J. Hockenson because I believed Hockenson would allow us to be more of a power run team, thus reducing our turnovers, controlling the clock and alleviating some of the pressure on both our defense and Ben Roethlisberger. We didn’t land Hockenson, of course, but the addition of Snell gives us another tough, between-the-tackles runner to pair with Conner. Snell’s selection suggests there will be more power football on tap in 2019.

Snell’s production at the University of Kentucky was legendary. He became UK’s all-time leading rusher in just three seasons and was one of only four running backs in SEC history to produce three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. Snell had a nose for the end zone, accumulating an astounding 48 rushing touchdowns at UK. He ended his college career by shredding Penn State for 144 yards and two TDs in a 27-24 Citrus Bowl victory on New Year’s Day.

Two things jump out at me about Snell’s career at UK. One, as far as power backs go, Snell did a lot of the heavy lifting on his own. In Snell’s time at UK, one Wildcat offensive lineman was an All-SEC player while none were drafted. By contrast, fellow power backs Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris ran behind five All-SEC linemen at Alabama, three of whom were drafted. Wisconsin bruiser Jonathan Taylor, a likely 2020 1st round pick, had three All-Big 10 selections paving the way for him this season alone. Two of them were just drafted. Snell, meanwhile, ran behind an uninspiring offensive line against some of the best defensive fronts in college football. And yet he was still the most productive back in Kentucky history.

His bowl performance against Penn State showcased the best of Snell’s combination of power and vision. Below we see the touchdown run that gave Snell the all-time UK rushing record. It’s an inside zone run and Snell takes it where it’s designed to go - right up the A-gap between the center and guard. The thing I like about this run is the way Snell “runs through the smoke,” as coaches often say. “Smoke,” in these terms, means clutter. There are a lot of moving parts in his path but no real danger (no “fire”). Rather than make a cut or bounce the ball outside, as many backs are wont to do, Snell lowers his pad level and hits the hole. The Wildcats’ offensive line simply needs to cover up their Penn State counterparts and Snell does the rest. This is a guy who will get downhill with his shoulders square and who, at a compact 5’10-225 pounds, will bring power and leverage when he does.

For an idea of Snell’s vision, consider the following clip. This is another inside zone run, just not blocked as well. Snell wants to take the ball inside again but Penn State’s left defensive tackle (#55) blows the offensive tackle into the backfield, collapsing the back-side A gap. Snell recognizes this immediately, veers left and works into the alley, where he runs through the arm tackle of a linebacker and hurdles a safety for good measure.

Don’t expect Snell to make a living on these types of runs in the NFL. He’s not a bounce-it-outside-and-make-people-miss kind of back. But he has the vision to see a cut and once he does he squares himself and runs hard. I read where some people compared him to Issac Redman on the BTSC draft day threads. All due respect, it’s a poor comparison. Snell is physical like Redman but not blindly so. He is a more complete runner than Redman ever was.

The other thing that jumps out at me about Snell is the scheme in which he played. Kentucky is predominantly a “spread” offense, although that has no bearing on the style of football they employ. When people hear “spread” they often think five receiver sets and 50 passes a game. That’s one way to utilize the spread philosophy but it’s not the only way. “Spread” does not mean scheme; rather, it describes personnel and formations. Kentucky spreads the field out of base 10 and 11 personnel but they do so to run the football between the tackles. Why? Because when you’re Kentucky and they’re Georgia, it doesn’t make sense to put a bunch of tight ends and fullbacks on the field since their big guys are better than yours. This doesn’t mean you can’t run the ball inside. It just means you have to get as many guys out of the box as possible to do so. Therefore, like many spread-to-run teams, Kentucky opens up the box with multiple receiver formations and then runs old-fashioned power football at the five or six defenders who remain.

Kentucky’s run game is built around the inside and outside zone plays and power-gap runs. They are the same concepts the Steelers use. We’ve seen Snell run inside zone. Now watch James Conner do it:

Same scheme, same style. Conner gets square, hits the A-gap and runs through an arm tackle.

Here are Snell and Conner running counter-gap:

This is the same concept run from two different looks. Kentucky uses a slot formation to spread the field and get defenders out of the box. The Steelers use a heavy set so that all 22 players are packed in like the Battle of Verdun. Either way, the scheme and philosophy are the same. Everyone on the play side blocks down. The back starts right then cuts left, where he follows a kick-out block from the guard and a wrap from his lead back (H-back for Kentucky, fullback for the Steelers). In both instances the defense has one too many players for the offense to block. Both offenses leave it up to the back to run through the extra defender. Both backs do exactly that.

These GIFs reveal how uncannily similar Snell and Conner look running the football. Neither is particularly quick but both are decisive. Both have an upright running style but lower their pads and reduce their strike zone once they hit the hole. And both churn their legs on contact and finish runs aggressively. It’s easy to see the continuity the Steelers run game would maintain with either Conner or Snell in the backfield.

THE BENEFITS OF RUNNING BACK-BY-COMMITTEE

Many will note that the running back-by-committee approach has never been Mike Tomlin’s style. Given the way he worked Le’Veon Bell like a rented mule when he was healthy, and how James Conner was overwhelmingly the feature back before he was injured last season, there is certainly precedent for that argument. Recent evidence may support a new argument, however, one that asserts the committee approach is upon us.

The emergence of Jaylen Samuels in Conner’s absence last season gives us the best one-two punch we’ve had at running back since Bell and De’Angelo Williams in 2015-16. Much like Bell and Williams, Conner and Samuels are very different backs. Both are big (220+ pounds) and both can catch the ball out of the backfield. But that’s largely where the similarities end. Conner is the classic power runner whereas Samuels operates better in space. Conner’s early season breakout came largely on the types of runs that earned Snell so many accolades at Kentucky: power runs between the tackles. Samuels’ breakout game against New England saw him do the majority of his damage on plays to the edge. When Conner returned for the season finale against Cincinnati, Samuels remained in the game-plan largely as a receiving option, where he caught seven passes.

It’s easy to see, then, how both could be utilized in the Steelers game-plan: Conner as the feature back, Samuels as the change-of-pace runner and receiver out of the backfield. Because Samuels is versatile and can line up in a variety of places, the two could even play together in certain packages.

As for Snell, at minimum he provides insurance for Conner should he get injured at some point. Last season, when Conner went down, we had to remake the run game because Samuels is such a different back from Conner. It worked against New England when we largely took the Patriots by surprise with our approach. As well as Samuels performed, however, the run game was incomplete without a guy who could earn money between the tackles.

Case in point: the following week, with our season on the line in New Orleans, we held a 28-24 lead with ten minutes to play and were driving the football when we faced a 3rd and 2 from the Saints 34 yard line. In an ill-advised decision, the seldom-used Steven Ridley was handed the ball on an inside run play. Ridley fumbled, the Saints recovered and the Steelers ended up losing the game and missing the playoffs as a result. There was no power back on the roster at that point to make those tough yards. This season, with or without Conner, that won’t be the case.

Beyond serving as an insurance policy, the Steelers could substitute Snell for Conner for an occasional series or two without having to alter the game-plan. This would alleviate some of the wear and tear that cost Conner three games last season. The fact that he and Conner are such similar runners means Snell could likely play in packages with Samuels as well. Even if Snell only got three or four carries per game, it would save Conner 50 or 60 carries over the duration of the season. That’s a full three games worth of carries, which would help keep Conner fresh for a playoff run. The Steelers haven’t enjoyed the luxury of entering the playoffs with a healthy feature back in years.

The committee approach, then, has too much merit and makes too much sense to simply discard it by saying, “That’s not what Tomlin does.” Philly and New England have both employed it with great success in recent seasons. Kansas City and New Orleans, too. With Conner and Samuels having emerged as viable backs and Snell selected as a distinct compliment to Conner, the past is not necessarily prologue.

So, to recap: Snell is an accomplished runner who was one of just four players in SEC history to amass three consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons; he is a power back whose presence on the roster provides us continuity in the run game so that if James Conner goes down we won’t have to remake the run game like we did last season; and, should he develop as expected, he could be used to alleviate some of the wear and tear on Conner so that all of the tread has not worn off of our feature back’s tires come December and January when we will (hopefully) need him most. With so much attention being paid to the bold trade that landed us Devin Bush in the 1st round and the surprising selection of Diontae Johnson in the 3rd round, Snell, should he help keep Conner healthy, could quietly become an invaluable contributor. That’s why, for me, he may be the hidden gem of this Steelers draft.

Updating the Steelers defensive depth chart after the 2019 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 6:49am

The Steelers added players to the defensive line, outside linebacker, and inside linebacker groups.

After drafting Sutton Smith, Isaiah Buggs, and Ulysees Gilbert III on the third day of the 2019 NFL draft, the Steelers also added several undrafted free agents to fill out their 2019 roster. The projected depth chart for the defensive positions added via day three of the draft for the Steelers is as follows:

Defensive Line
  1. Cameron Heyward
  2. Stephon Tuitt
  3. Javon Hargrove
  4. Tyson Alualu
  5. Daniel McCullers
  6. Isaiah Buggs
  7. Lavon Hooks
  8. Conor Sheehy
  9. Winston Craig
  10. Casey Sayles
  11. Jay Hayes
  12. Chris Nelson

It would take an awful lot to unseat any of the starters along the defensive line. Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt , and Javon Hargrave are locked in as the three D-line positions in base defense. Hargrave also comes into the rotation in sub-package football as well as Tyson Alualu.

Daniel McCullers has managed to continue to hold on to the back-up nose tackle position, although newly drafted Isaiah Buggs could use his position flexibility to grab the roster spot away. Another player who is fighting for a spot is Levon Hooks who has spent two years on the Steelers practice squad and many feel he is ready to move up to the 53.

To round out the rest of the depth chart, Conor Sheehy comes in as a collegiate teammate of T.J. Watt who was not on any team’s practice squad last season. Winston Craig and Casey Sayles both come to the Steelers via the AAF. The Steelers also added two UFA’s after the draft with Jay Hayes (Georgia) and Chris Nelson (Texas). All the guys on the bottom five of this list have a long road to make the team, but are not beyond the realm of possibility.

Outside Linebacker
  1. T.J. Watt
  2. Bud Dupree
  3. Anthony Chickillo
  4. Ola Adeniyi
  5. Sutton Smith
  6. Keon Adams
  7. J.T. Jones

The top three of this list has not changed from 2018, as they were the only ones who logged any kind of significant snaps for the Steelers. T.J. Watt is coming off of a Pro Bowl season and Bud Dupree is going into the fifth year of his rookie deal. Anthony Chickillo was re-signed upon hitting the free-agent market this past off-season.

Ola Adeniyi spent the majority of 2018 on injured reserve, but did join the 53 man roster late in the season and dressed for one game. Keon Adams spent 2018 on the Steelers practice squad after being on IR the season before. Newly drafted Sutton Smith will have every opportunity to earn a spot on the depth chart at both outside linebacker and inside linebacker if necessary. Most importantly, Smith can earn his way onto the 53-man roster by impressing on special teams units. J.T. Jones rounds out the depth chart after signing with the Steelers following his time with the AAF.

Inside Linebacker
  1. Vince Williams
  2. Mark Barron
  3. Devin Bush
  4. Tyler Matakevich
  5. Ulysees Gilbert III
  6. Robert Spillane
  7. Tegray Scales
  8. Ryan Shazier (PUP)

Since drafting Devin Bush in the first round of the NFL draft this past weekend; this position group has undergone even more change. The additional draft pick of Ulysees Gilbert III in the sixth round cemented the fate of Jon Bostic who was subsequently released. The Steelers also officially placed Ryan Shazier on the Physically Unable to Perform list, so he no longer counts against the 90-man roster.

It’s safe to say the first three names on this list are cemented at the top with the only question being the order. Vince Williams will begin in the top spot since he was the only player of the three on the Steelers 2018 roster. But Williams could even find himself at number three by the time the regular season rolls around. Devin Bush will start off just outside of the starting lineup, but after trading up in the top 10 to select him, many expect him to see the field regularly by Week 1. Mark Barron should see action regardless, whether starting in base defense or as the dime linebacker.

Tyler Matakevich’s chances of making the roster improved with a release of Bostic, although Gilbert could make the 53-man squad either beside or ahead of him. As mentioned after the day-one pick of Bush, Spillane and Scales come to the Steelers from various practice squads and are longshots to make the roster. Outside linebacker Sutton Smith could also come in to play in this position group if the Steelers feel he is better suited to play inside rather than outside. And as is often the case with either linebacker position, value on special teams can help earn a roster spot just as much as defensive play.

Podcast: How to decipher the success of the Steelers 2019 draft class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 5:34am

Discuss all things Steelers and beyond as BTSC’s Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo comment on the latest news of Steeler Nation and recap the draft, while ignoring the poor performance of their mock drafts.

The draft is over and excitement exudes in a good bit of Steeler Nation. Join Bryan Davis and Anthony Defeo from BTSC for the extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”. They will discuss the Steelers haul, their mocks and much more. As always, Tony and Bryan have plenty to discuss with help from Steeler Nation.

Check out a rundown of the show:

  • Fact or Fiction
  • Examining the Steelers draft
  • and MUCH MORE!

Check out the show below!

You can get all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Black and Gold Links: The 2019 draft class could force out several regulars on the Steelers’ roster

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/30/2019 - 4:30am

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With the 2019 NFLDraft in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season is fast approaching, and the news surrounding the black-and-gold is far from over. As the team now turns their attention to more offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp, there is no shortage of news.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the newest crop of Steelers selected could end the tenure of several players on the current roster.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Steelers doubled-down on their team needs in the 2019 NFL Draft, and because of this there is a very real chance there are some “regulars” who find themselves on the outside looking in when the roster gets trimmed down to 53 players.

Tim Benz: NFL Draft could have a big impact on many current Steelers

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

And they better hope the rookies drafted to battle them for playing time — linebacker Devin Bush, receiver Diontae Johnson, and cornerback Justin Layne — are all at least as good by the end of 2019 as Terrell Edmunds was at the end of his 2018 rookie campaign.

Because the Steelers decided to double-down on addressing those three positions in both the draft and free agency, they left a few other positions unaddressed. Two that leap to mind are outside linebacker and safety. It doesn’t stop there, though. The Steelers’ draft strategy may wind up thrusting quite a few existing players into expanded — or very different — roles in 2019.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • After the draft, the question remains: Who runs the AFC North?

Kevin Gorman: Now that the NFL Draft is over, who runs the AFC North?

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The NFL Draft saw the Pittsburgh Steelers make a leap of faith at linebacker, the Baltimore Ravens strengthen their skill positions, the Cleveland Browns pick a kicker and the Cincinnati Bengals bolster their offensive line.

Who will be the king in the AFC North?

The Browns made the boldest pre-draft move, sending their first-round pick to the New York Giants for All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Steelers took the biggest risk, trading up 10 spots to draft inside linebacker Devin Bush 10th overall.

But this one is a close call.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • While everyone gushes over the Steelers’ 9 new draft picks, many feel there were a lot of players left which could have really helped the team in 2019.

Tim Benz: Let’s talk about what the Steelers DIDN’T get during the draft

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

We’ve spent three days talking about what the Pittsburgh Steelers got in the draft. Now let’s talk about what they didn’t get.

That’s quality “starter-in-waiting” (to use a Tomlinism) depth for two positions where they are thin and potentially will be thinner after this season because of free agency: outside linebacker and safety.

No safeties were drafted or acquired last month via free agency. The only undrafted free agent safety obtained was West Virginia’s Dravon Askew-Henry.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • The Steelers fan base is awaiting a chance to claim Devin Bush as the next Ryan Shazier, but the Michigan product doesn’t want any part of such a claim.

Steelers LB Bush shrugs off Shazier comparisons

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Bush appears to be in the club. But on the field, Bush plans to be his own man and isn’t feeling pressure to replace Shazier.

”Ryan Shazier is a great linebacker and I know he’s going to make a comeback,” Bush said. “I’m Devin Bush and he’s Ryan Shazier. We may have similar play styles, but I’m Devin Bush at the end of the day and I’m not trying to be Ryan Shazier.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Social Media Madness

This is family business.
And this is for everybody standing with us.#SteelersDraft | #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/HxxRrli4ij

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 29, 2019

Phase 2. #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/oC5T8604WZ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 29, 2019

First-round pick Devin Bush discusses coming from a football family, learning from his father and godfather Derrick Brooks, the relationship he's built with Coach Tomlin and so much more.#FaceTime | @_Dbush11 pic.twitter.com/jh2CfozAHH

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 28, 2019

#LIVE: GM Kevin Colbert and Coach Tomlin recap the 2019 #NFLDraft.#SteelersDraft | @UPMCHealthPlan https://t.co/a1JZXXMN0D

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 27, 2019

Scouting the Steelers 2019 NFL Draft picks: OLB Sutton Smith and DL Isaiah Buggs

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 3:10pm

We take a look at the scouting reports written about two of the Steelers sixth-round draft picks this offseason

The Pittsburgh Steelers selections of Northern Illinois edge rusher Sutton Smith and Alabama defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs represent two late-round value picks who figure to be limited to reserve roles and special teams play in 2019, assuming they even make the final roster to begin with.

When reading the scouting reports written about them ahead of the draft, the experts seem to see two players who could have some potential in the right system, with both prospects expedited to see in a change to the position they were used to playing in college.

Sutton Smith, OLB, Northern Illinois

Lance Zierlein, NFL.com:

“Undersized, edge-based antagonist for a variety of tackles, quarterbacks and offensive coordinators on his schedule. Smith lacks functional size and struggled in matchups against Senior Bowl tackles so his gaudy college sack total is less likely to carry as much weight with NFL teams. He has the demeanor to fit right into special teams work while his quickness, aggression and hand usage could land him a backup inside linebacker role with the potential to be utilized as a sub-package blitzer.”

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report:

STRENGTHS

Highly productive small-schooler who posted 26.5 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks in 2018.

Elite testing time (6.75 seconds) in the three-cone drill, which measures agility and body control. Also turned in a very good 4.69-second 40-yard dash.

Was unstoppable in college with his motor and nonstop style as a pass-rusher.

Will likely see a position change in the NFL and has the body type and athleticism to move to linebacker and play on special teams.

Attacks the play with a plan and is able to get through his pass-rush moves.

WEAKNESSES

Undersized for the NFL at 6’0”, 233 pounds and only 30¾-inch arm length.

Was shut down by pro-level talent at the Senior Bowl.

Has no experience in coverage and must learn to better handle duties in space.

Change of direction is bad with poor ability to adjust on the go.

OVERALL

Sutton Smith was a top-tier producer for Northern Illinois, leading many fans to pay attention to his predraft process. Unfortunately, Smith doesn’t have the size or athleticism to make a splash as an impact pass-rusher once he gets to the NFL. A move to linebacker and a lot of reps on special teams are in his future with a potential rotational role as a pass-rusher.

GRADE: 5.35 (ROUND 6 — BACKUP CALIBER) PRO COMPARISON: Skai Moore

Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network:

“Sutton Smith’s NFL project can go one of two ways: Smith can be used as a pass rush specialist and special teams ace, or he can convert to linebacker and utilize his short area quickness, effective hand counters and football instincts on the second level. Smith has the functional athleticism to play in space and often rushed off the edge from a stand-up position. His ceiling is a starting off-ball linebacker with quality pass rush contributions.”

Joe Marino, The Draft Network:

“There’s quite a bit of guesswork when it comes to projecting Smith to the next level. He was a dynamic edge defender at Northern Illinois, racking up rare tackle for loss and sack numbers across the last two seasons. With that said, his physical profile falls too far below NFL thresholds to play on the edge so a move to off-ball linebacker is required. Obviously, special teams will be a big part of what Smith will need to do well at the next level, but his motor, hand usage and short area burst could make him an effective sub-package player that performs a single duty in an attacking role.”

With pick 175 in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Steelers select Sutton Smith, LB, Northern Illinois.

Sutton Smith posted a Good #RAS with Poor size, Poor speed, Okay explosiveness, Great agility at the LB position. pic.twitter.com/MZbzXRQ2u7

— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2019

Sutton Smith would not be denied on third down: he had the highest pass rush productivity mark in the MAC and generated 28 quarterback pressures on third down this season. pic.twitter.com/vpujZKwyFG

— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 25, 2019

With the 175th pick in the 2019 #NFLDraft – the Pittsburgh Steelers select Northern Illinois edge defender Sutton Smith! pic.twitter.com/hI7kyRQrES

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 27, 2019

After 2 years of INSANE production at Northern Illinois, can Sutton Smith continue to produce in the NFL? pic.twitter.com/t4Trhn9HjY

— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 4, 2019

Video highlights:

Isaiah Buggs, DL, Alabama

Lance Zierlein, NFL.com:

“Base end in college who will be moving to defensive tackle on a full-time basis in the pros. Buggs has the body type, play strength and quickness to make a full-time transition inside as a one- or two-gapper, but he needs to play with more consistent resolve. He has some talent to win quickly as a rusher, but his testing numbers in quickness and explosiveness have been very poor and will likely cause him to drop.”

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report:

STRENGTHS

An ideal fit for teams running 3-4 defenses with his experience at 5-technique, but also projects well to an inside tackle position in a four-man front.

A breakout senior season saw him notch 9.5 sacks and be much more disruptive in the backfield and when chasing down quarterbacks.

His quickness and strength are NFL-caliber; he gets out of his stance quickly and can make an inside or outside move off his blocker and gain ground past the line of scrimmage. Offers a solid bull rush or anchor.

Has quick, light feet that allow him to set up blockers and counter with a spin or swim move.

Still has some development potential, which is rare for Alabama prospects, who are generally well coached and developed.

WEAKNESSES

31¼-inch arms, and it shows when he tries to keep blockers off his frame or shed the hands of offensive linemen.

Started his college career at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and has limited experience against top-tier blockers, despite his two years in the SEC.

May have benefited from a defense that is loaded with future NFL starters. Saw his production skyrocket after Quinnen Williams became a full-time starter and offenses had to focus extra blockers on Williams to stop him.

His combine performance will hurt his stock after he posted a 5.15-second 40-yard dash, a 24½-inch vertical jump and 8.01-second three-cone drill.

Scouts relayed information to us that coaches at Alabama were not high on Buggs and didn’t vouch for his work ethic.

OVERALL

Isaiah Buggs has moments in which he looks like a top 50 selection, but concerns over his conditioning and effort are evident when watching his tape. A move inside to defensive tackle could limit his wear and tear, but he’s best suited immediately for a rotational role on the inside with a starter track if developed.

GRADE: 5.90 (ROUND 3-4 — FUTURE STARTER) PRO COMPARISON: Maliek Collins

Kyle Crabbs, The Draft Network:

“Isaiah Buggs projects well as a rotational defender up front for a physical team that likes to reset the LOS with power and occupy blockers. Buggs is lacking in the traditional length to stack up blocks but he shows excellent anchor skills and some nifty power counters to uncover as needed and bring some versatility. Buggs’ ceiling may not be more than an average starter, but I’d love his contributions in a depth/rotational role.”

Joe Marino, The Draft Network:

“After two seasons in the JUCO ranks, Buggs was a two-year starter for Alabama. He found his way in 2017 before a standout senior season that included 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Primarily playing on the edge for Alabama, Buggs will transition to the interior defensive line at the next level. His power and compact frame makes him an appealing option but his lack of length and mobility tempers his projection. More concerning, however, is his lack of consistency with his effort on a snap-to-snap basis. There are some restrictions present but Buggs has a chance to be a sound rotational player.”

With pick 192 in the 2019 NFL Draft, the #Steelers select Isaiah Buggs, DT, Alabama.

Isaiah Buggs posted a V.Poor #RAS with Good size, Poor speed, V.Poor explosiveness, V.Poor agility at the DT position. pic.twitter.com/BgXKUG9yjj

— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2019

New Steelers DI Isaiah Buggs had 35 QB pressures & 30 defensive stops last season with Alabama. pic.twitter.com/Z0r6ZXg3tO

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 28, 2019

With the 192nd pick of the 2019 #NFLDraft – the Pittsburgh Steelers select Alabama DI Isaiah Buggs! pic.twitter.com/UwNUjSOveU

— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 27, 2019

Video highlights:

Steelers add Texas safety P.J. Locke as undrafted rookie free agent

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 1:53pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers filled the roster spot held by Ryan Shazier with an UDFA safety from Texas.

Just minutes after the Pittsburgh Steelers announced they were placing Ryan Shazier on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, they announced they filled his roster spot on the 90-man roster with an undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA) from Texas named P.J. Locke.

Steelers sign safety P.J. Locke. He played at Texas and had 31 career starts.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) April 29, 2019

Locke will have an easier path to a roster spot than those who play other positions, mainly due to the lack of depth behind Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds. Throw in the fact the team ignored the position throughout the 7-round selection process and no safety should be counted out of this race.

To get more of an insight on Locke as a player, this is what Burnt Orange Nation, SB Nation’s Texas website, had to say about the defensive back who roamed the field for the longhorns:

Capable of playing with enough punch to survive at nickel back in the Big 12, Locke was solid at safety in the Texas Bowl and believes he can play outside at cornerback, too.

“I’m a safety that can cover like a corner and hit like a linebacker,” Locke said at the Texas Pro Day. “Wherever you want to play me, I can play there — I’ve got experience at every position, so I’m not worried. If it’s just about getting my feet wet again and going to play corner, I can play corner. I’ve got the speed, I showcased that today, and I’ve got the agility.”

Locke did test well that day, putting up 22 reps on the bench press and posting an official 36.5-inch vertical after a 39-inch effort was disqualified. He ran well, too, with times ranging from the high 4.3s to the low 4.5s. In fact, of all the Texas players at the Pro Day, he arguably helped himself as much as any not named Andrew Beck.

One of the more remarkable aspects of Locke as a player is that he can control his body weight during game week, fluctuating from 210 pounds last season against a running team like Maryland to 199 pounds against a passing team like Oklahoma.

Despite the versatility that Locke displayed at Texas, however, the biggest question he faces is whether he can actually find a position he can play at a high enough level to make an NFL roster.

What isn’t in doubt is that he’s a strong athlete who possesses all of the necessary intangibles to succeed, so don’t be surprised if he ends up following in the footsteps of a player like Adrian Phillips to carve out an NFL career.

Check out his highlights below:

Salary cap implications for Steelers from release of LB Jon Bostic

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 1:30pm

We take a look at how the Steelers release of veteran linebacker Jon Bostic will impact the teams’ cap position this season.

With the selection of Michigan linebacker Devin Bush in the first-round of the 2019 NFL Draft, it effectively signaled the end of Jon Bostic’s time as a starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. By Saturday night he was no longer a part of the team.

In something of a premature move, the Steelers opted to part ways with the linebacker they had signed as a free agent in 2018, clearing a path for Bush to become the undisputed starter come opening day. And while some might argue that keeping Bostic as a valuable backup with veteran experience to sit behind the untested rookie might have been a good idea, it would appear that Pittsburgh put a higher priority on the salary cap savings that would accompany his release over his talent.

Originally set to earn a base salary of $1.8 million in 2019 as part of a total salary cap cost of $2.5 million that included a prorated signing bonus amount of $700,000, the Steelers will now see that base salary return to the cap as additional space and will absorb the prorated bonus figure as dead money this season. Signed to a two-year deal worth $4 million that included a $1.4 million signing bonus in 2018, Bostic only ever saw just over half of that amount, receiving a total $2.2 million from Pittsburgh in last year.

For a team that was only $3,201,131 under the cap before the draft started as result of the extension given to Ben Roethlisberger last week, as per the NFLPA public salary cap report, an additional $1.8 million is rather significant. Faced with signing a draft class projected to cost in the region of $3 million after displacement, Pittsburgh will need every cent they can find this offseason to cover some of the other costs they will need to account for later in the year.

And given that the Steelers will want to create a cushion of around $3.5 million to carry into the regular season, fans should expected to see one of two more moves in the coming months, with restructures the tool the team will most likely use to create the additional cap space they require.

Steelers officially place Ryan Shazier on the Physically Unable to Perform list

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 1:02pm

In a move which was anticipated, the Steelers place Ryan Shazier on the Reserve/PUP list.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had to make a few moves after the 2019 NFL Draft, and one of those was made late Saturday when the team terminated the contract of inside linebacker Jon Bostic. However, after signing 9 draft picks and 10 Undrafted Free Agents (UDFA), the team had one more move to make.

While this was anticipated, the Steelers placed Ryan Shazier on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list.

Steelers have placed LB Ryan Shazier on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) April 29, 2019

Since the league, and team, announced Shazier’s contract will toll into 2019, since he spent the entire 2018 season on the Reserve/PUP List, it was widely know Shazier won’t be playing football this year.

The Steelers now have their 90-man roster intact, for now, but the offseason roster is fluid. With injuries, and new players becoming available if released by other teams, the inflated roster will change drastically between now and when the league mandates the team get its roster down to the 53-man limit.

As for Shazier, he will not only get paid, but will also continue to be insured and rehab at the team’s facilities. It is amazing how far he has come since the injury in December 2017. Just looking for photos for this article showed Shazier walking with a cane at training camp last year. Fast forward to earlier this month and he is now doing assisted box jumps.

Whether Shazier plays again or not isn’t important, but what is important is he is on his way back to full health.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

National media grades for Steelers 2019 draft class range from A to C

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 12:05pm

We take a look at the various grades given to the Steelers 2019 NFL Draft class by the experts in the national media

Of all the aspects of the annual draft process that make the least sense, it is hard to challenge the absurdity of grading a draft seconds after it has happened. Reports invariably written by the same media experts who assigned their own personal rankings to the prospects before they were picked, then go on to use those same evaluations when assessing the job done by the various teams, regardless of how inaccurate their projections were in the first place.

If the expert had a player ranked in the first-round and he then slides to round five, the team that picked him got a steal and they are graded according, totally overlooking that fact that the evaluation clearly did not match with that of the 32 professional NFL teams who have done far more research. That being said, this has never stopped me from reading them, even if I do approach them with a degree of contempt.

In general, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 NFL Draft class seems to have been relatively well received by the national media, with the move up for Devin Bush meeting with the approval of most experts. And by comparison to some fans who appear to be slightly disappointed with the team’s overall haul, it would be fair to say that the media might be more impressed with the draft class than some sections of SteelerNation.

Listed from best to worst based on grade:

Steve Silverman, Bleacher Report: A

“The Steelers know how to use the draft to replenish their team, and their first piece of business was to move up so they could pick inside linebacker Devin Bush. He has explosive speed and he can go sideline-to sideline to make key plays. Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne has size, speed and a willingness to tackle.”

“Best Day 3 selection: Outside linebacker Sutton Smith may have a difficult finding the field on defense, but he will be an outstanding special-teams contributor.”

Chad Reuter, NFL.com: A-

“I was so happy to see two inside linebackers go in the top 10 picks. Bush is worthy of that investment, as he moves like a safety and pounds ball-carriers with impunity. The picks they parted with to move up in the deal with the Broncos -- Pittsburgh sent them a 2019 second-round pick (No. 52) and 2020 third-rounder -- isn’t a ridiculous price to pay, but the Steelers could have found a much-needed corner had they stayed at No. 20 and a starting inside ‘backer in the second round (or later).”

“Pittsburgh hopes it found another steal at receiver by picking up Johnson, who has the toughness, hands and quickness to excel. He may have been available later in the draft, but honestly, how can I doubt GM Kevin Colbert’s call on a receiver? Layne was a typical Colbert-like value in the third round, and he’ll quickly earn playing time.”

“Snell is another powerful runner who will continue to pound defenses when James Conner and Jaylen Samuels aren’t in the game. Gentry could become a player in time, though there were four or five other tight ends available with higher grades. The team hopes Gray can eventually take over the right tackle spot.”

Day 1 grade: A-, Day 2 grade: A-, Day 3 grade: B, Overall grade: A-

Albert Breer, MMQB: A-

“You may have heard: the Pittsburgh Steelers rarely trade up. (The last time was 2003 for some soft-spoken safety named Troy Polamalu.) But Devin Bush is worth making an exception for given that the team had reason to believe their division-rival Bengals wanted him, but even more so because the Steelers badly needed him. Bush is a modern day run-and-chase linebacker. He decisively fires his gun and has superb closing speed. In other words, he’s another Ryan Shazier, whose tragic injury in 2017 dropped this defense down an entire level.”

“The Antonio Brown trade wound up yielding third-round receiver Diontae Johnson and fifth-round tight end Zach Gentry. It’s realistic to think that together, they might provide half the production that Brown would have, at least in these first couple of years. But on the plus side, they’re much cheaper than Brown and, presumably, not despicable teammates.”

“It will be interesting to see if third-round corner Justin Layne gets on the field. The Steelers, with so many complex matchup zones and disguised pressures, don’t love playing young defensive backs, but with inconsistent ex-Chief Steven Nelson as their starting right corner, they could be tempted to give Layne, a plus-sized bump-and-run defender, a close look.”

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: A-

“The Steelers know what kind of players fit their offensive and defensive systems, and GM Kevin Colbert went right for them. Johnson and Snell made sense after the departures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Gentry is a good replacement for Jesse James. Watch out for Buggs being a big steal.”

Walter Football: A-

“The Steelers may have hoped that Devin Bush would drop to them, but they were realistic about it. They were well aware that they had to trade up to obtain a new defensive leader, and that’s exactly what they did. Trading up for players is often unwise, but it was completely necessary in this instance. Pittsburgh’s defense has been a shell of its former self ever since Ryan Shazier suffered his horrible spinal injury. Now, the Steelers can return to their former glory with Bush as a replacement.”

“While Bush earned an “A” grade, another selection of Pittsburgh’s was marked even higher. Justin Layne at No. 83 could’ve been constituted as grand larceny, as there was some speculation that he could be chosen late in the opening frame. The Steelers obtained a major steal with Layne, who figures to solve the problems his new team had at cornerback. Conversely, Pittsburgh was guilty of some minor reaches when it took wide receiver Dionate Johnson and tight end Zach Gentry too early.”

“Aside from the two reaches, the Steelers had a great weekend. They filled several needs with talented prospects for the most part, and as a result, Pittsburgh could be back in playoff contention after being absent from the postseason last year.”

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: B+

“In January, in my Mock Draft 1.0, I slotted in Devin Bush to the Steelers at No. 20. It was an easy decision -- yes, I’m patting myself on the back -- as Pittsburgh has struggled to replace the production of star inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. But then Bush ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash and tested off the charts at the combine. He also killed his interviews with teams. There was no way he was going to be available in the 20s.”

“That’s why I like GM Kevin Colbert moving up 10 spots to get a potential superstar in Bush at No. 10. Yes, it cost a lot -- they gave up pick 20 and 52 plus a third-rounder in next year’s draft -- but Bush can be an impact player and leader in Pittsburgh. And oh, yeah: The last time Pittsburgh traded up in the first round to take a defender? It was 2003, when they moved up 11 spots for safety Troy Polamalu.”

“Elsewhere, Pittsburgh added a wide receiver with the pick it got in the Antonio Brown trade. Diontae Johnson (No. 66) actually reminds me a little bit of Brown on tape, but he’s not an elite athlete. We obviously can’t expect him to be close to Brown, but if he gets into the rotation as a rookie, that’s a win. The Steelers really like second-year wideout James Washington, a second-rounder a year ago. Cornerback Justin Layne (No. 83), a converted receiver, could be a starter as a rookie. I thought he had a chance to go in the top 40 picks. Sutton Smith (No. 175) is a little undersized, but he landed in a good spot with a 3-4 team.”

“My affection for Bush is well-known, obviously, and I think he can be a superstar lynchpin for this team. Layne, too, is a great value pick at a need position. Now, can Pittsburgh overtake Cleveland in the AFC North?”

Mark Maske, Washington Post: B+

“The Steelers are not known for making bold trades to move up, but they acted decisively in the first round to climb 10 spots for LB Devin Bush. He fits in well. The Steelers needed WR help after trading Antonio Brown and used a third-rounder gained in that deal on Diontae Johnson. The Steelers have had great success getting productive wideouts later than the first round.”

Pro Football Focus: Above Average

Day 1: The Steelers had to give up picks Nos. 20 and 52 in the 2019 NFL Draft and a third-rounder in the 2020 NFL Draft to get him, but former Michigan off-ball linebacker Devin Bush has a very good chance to be worth the extra draft capital if he can bring his play in Ann Arbor to Pittsburgh. He is a freakishly athletic linebacker with outstanding coverage and pass-rushing ability compared to his peers in this year’s class. He’s also a tone-setter on the defensive side of the ball who craves contact and knows how to lay the boom. He also earned 90.2 and 85.0 overall grades in 2017 and 2018, respectively.”

“I think Bush is perfect for what the Steelers want from the linebacker position.” – Pro Football Focus’ Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner”

Day 2: A favorite of practically everyone at the PFF offices, Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson is a superb route runner that will be a nightmare for opposing defensive backs to match and mirror at the next level. Pro Football Focus’ Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner says it best in that “Johnson just moves differently.” Production fell off a bit for Johnson when AAF superstar Logan Woodside left Toledo after the 2017 season, but Big Ben should help DJ return to form in Pittsburgh.”

“Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne’s 89.5 coverage grade last year was ninth-best among Power-5 corners in the nation. Pegged as PFF’s No. 39 overall player in the class, Layne is quite the steal for the Steelers at pick No. 83.”

Day 3: Likely too small to play edge defender at the next level, the 6-foot, 233-pound Sutton Smith should make the transition to off-ball linebacker and bring pass-rush upside in the NFL. He recorded 65 total pressures as an edge defender with Northern Illinois in 2018, good for the second-most pressures in the FBS. He finished the pre-draft process ranked 199th in the class.”

“After earning a 78.0 overall grade and an 89.2 run-defense grade in 2017, Alabama’s Isaiah Buggs regressed in a larger role in 2018. Predominantly playing edge defender, he earned a 71.6 overall grade and a 74.7 run-defense grade across 747 defensive snaps this past season.”

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: B

“Best pick: I think third-round corner Justin Layne has a chance to be a good starter. He is long and can cover. The Steelers need that.”

“Worst pick: Third-round receiver Diontae Johnson is a smallish MAC receiver, which makes him a little bit of a risk. But who are we to argue with the Steelers when it comes to smallish receivers in the draft?”

“The skinny: They made a bold move to move up to land linebacker Devin Bush with the 10th overall pick, a move I like. The rest of their draft was solid as well. Not flashy, but solid.”

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: B-

“No team made a bigger jump in the first round. They gave up a lot to get linebacker Devin Bush of Michigan. The need was obvious. The value not as much.”

“In a pick from the Antonio Brown trade, the Steelers got another small Mid-American Conference wide receiver in Diontae Johnson. The similarity to Brown feels kinda troll-ish. At the least, Johnson can be a good return man. He was picked 66th overall, though Pittsburgh viewed him as a first-round player, which was surprising.”

“On Day 3, the Steelers took several very Steelers players. Cornerback Justin Layne is the big outside corner they needed. Benny Snell, a brilliant pickup, is a power back who fits the offense. If James Conner struggles, Snell could be a star. Zach Gentry was this draft’s version of Jesse James as a big, unrefined tight end with some athleticism.”

Nate Davis, USA Today: C

“Admire GM Kevin Colbert deviating from his tendencies to trade up for LB Devin Bush — the first man this organization ever dealt into the top 10 for — particularly in light of this defense’s ongoing struggles since Ryan Shazier went down in 2017. But it was a hefty gamble at the cost of a first-, second- and future third-rounder. Third-round CB Justin Layne and fourth-round RB Benny Snell seem like solid choices, but will Colbert regret not tabbing an alternative to Matt Feiler, the new starting right tackle? And, after further consideration, this just doesn’t feel like enough for Antonio Brown.”

Mel Kiper Jr. gives Steelers above average grade for 2019 draft class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 10:47am

It is the Monday after the NFL Draft, which means pundits are putting out grades for players who haven’t stepped foot on an NFL field yet.

There are many facets of the NFL Draft process I personally can’t stand. The mock draft scene has gotten extremely out of hand, but as site traffic makes the world go ‘round, sites like this one run weekly mock drafts. While there are other aspects which frustrate me, the grades given to draft classes in the days after the selection process might trump them all.

In my opinion, there are definitely aspects which you can grade. Positional need, trades made and even procedure in which picks were made are open for criticism. But grading players who have yet to even have an NFL practice under their belts makes the process seem a bit ridiculous.

Nonetheless, as I said earlier, traffic is the accelerator.

Some who produce draft content carry more significance than others, and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. is certainly one of those draft experts fans want to know what he thinks. Many can’t stand Kiper, but when he gives an opinion people want to see what he thinks.

Recently, Mel Kiper Jr. gave his grades for the 2019 NFL Draft and a detailed look at each class. Time to check out what he said about the Pittsburgh Steelers draft haul:

Pittsburgh Steelers: B+

Top needs: Cornerback, inside linebacker, wide receiver

In January, in my Mock Draft 1.0, I slotted in Devin Bush to the Steelers at No. 20. It was an easy decision -- yes, I’m patting myself on the back -- as Pittsburgh has struggled to replace the production of star inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. But then Bush ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash and tested off the charts at the combine. He also killed his interviews with teams. There was no way he was going to be available in the 20s.

That’s why I like GM Kevin Colbert moving up 10 spots to get a potential superstar in Bush at No. 10. Yes, it cost a lot -- they gave up pick 20 and 52 plus a third-rounder in next year’s draft -- but Bush can be an impact player and leader in Pittsburgh. And oh, yeah: The last time Pittsburgh traded up in the first round to take a defender? It was 2003, when they moved up 11 spots for safety Troy Polamalu.

Elsewhere, Pittsburgh added a wide receiver with the pick it got in the Antonio Brown trade. Diontae Johnson (No. 66) actually reminds me a little bit of Brown on tape, but he’s not an elite athlete. We obviously can’t expect him to be close to Brown, but if he gets into the rotation as a rookie, that’s a win. The Steelers really like second-year wideout James Washington, a second-rounder a year ago. Cornerback Justin Layne (No. 83), a converted receiver, could be a starter as a rookie. I thought he had a chance to go in the top 40 picks. Sutton Smith (No. 175) is a little undersized, but he landed in a good spot with a 3-4 team.

My affection for Bush is well-known, obviously, and I think he can be a superstar lynchpin for this team. Layne, too, is a great value pick at a need position. Now, can Pittsburgh overtake Cleveland in the AFC North?

In case you are wondering, here are the grades Kiper gave to the rest of the AFC North:

Cincinnati Bengals — A-
Cleveland Browns — A-
Baltimore Ravens — B+
Pittsburgh Steelers — B+

What do you think of Kiper’s comments? What about the AFC North grades as a whole? Let us know 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 offseason workouts!

Updating the Steelers offensive depth chart after the 2019 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 9:30am

The Steelers added players to the running back, tight end, and offensive line groups.

After drafting Benny Snell Jr, Zach Gentry, and Derwin Grey on the third day of the 2019 NFL draft, the Steelers also added several undrafted free agents to fill out their 2019 roster. The projected depth chart for the offensive positions added via day three of the draft for the Steelers is as follows:

Running Back
  1. James Conner
  2. Jaylen Samuels
  3. Benny Snell Jr
  4. Trey Edmunds
  5. Ralph Webb
  6. Malik Williams
  7. Trevon McMillan

With the addition of Benny Snell Jr. out of Kentucky, it’s safe to place him third on the depth chart going into training camp. As usual, he will have every opportunity to move up the depth chart and see significant snaps. At this point, it’s hard to see anybody unseating James Connor, Jalen Samuels, and Snell for any of the three positions on the 54-man roster the Steelers usually keep for running back.

Trey Edmonds, the brother of Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds, was on the Steelers practice squad in 2019 and was moved to the active roster when James Conner suffered an injury. Ralph Webb was in the player who was signed to the practice squad after Edmunds came up to the 53. Most likely they would battle out for a practice squad position for 2019.

Malik Williams comes to the Steelers after being waived/injured last year with the Atlanta Falcons. The Steelers also added Trevon McMillan as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado. Much like Edmunds and Webb, they will be fighting for a spot on the practice squad in all likelihood.

Tight End
  1. Vance McDonald
  2. Xavier Grimble
  3. Zach Gentry
  4. Kevin Rader
  5. Christian Scotland-Williamson
  6. Trevor Wood

When healthy, Vance McDonald is locked in as the Steelers number one tight end. With the departure of Jesse James to the Detroit Lions, Xavier Grimble is the next man up to fill the number two spot. Both were on the Steelers 53 man roster the last two seasons.

Zach Gentry comes to the Steelers from the University of Michigan at a towering 6’ 8” but with raw blocking ability. As long as he seems somewhat serviceable during training camp, gentry should be able to keep the number three tight end position for the 53 man roster.

Kevin Rader was signed to a futures contract in January after not being on an NFL team during the regular season in 2018. Christian Scott–Williamson is the Steelers international player and is given an automatic spot on the Steelers practice squad that does not count towards their 10 players. So Scott–Williamson gets another year with the Steelers regardless.

Trevor Wood was an undrafted free agent signed by the Steelers after the 2019 draft. Although he played tight end in college, he is also listed as a long snapper. It is unclear if the Steelers will even consider Wood as a tight end, but to fail to mention him would be an injustice for him being signed by an NFL team.

Offensive Line
  1. Maurkice Pouncey
  2. David DeCastro
  3. Ramon Foster
  4. Alejandro Villanueva
  5. Matt Feiler
  6. Chukwuma Okorafor
  7. Jerald Hawkins
  8. B.J. Finney
  9. Zach Banner
  10. Derwin Grey
  11. R.J. Prince
  12. Patrick Morris
  13. J.C. Hassenauer
  14. Garrett Brumfield
  15. Fred Johnson

Putting a number on the depth of offensive lineman when not separating them by position is not exactly fair, so please remember that the top four positions of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, and Alejandro Villanueva are placed regardless of rank as current starters for the Steelers going into 2019. As for the other starting position, Matt Feiler, Chuks Okorafor, and Jerald Hawkins are all expected to battle for the starting role.

B.J. Finney is the primary back up at both the center and guard position and is capable of stepping in to any of those rolls if needed. After the battle for right tackle, Zach Banner is also left as depth at the position as he was on the 53-man roster in 2019 but rarely was active on game day.

Derwin Grey was the Steelers final selection of the 2019 draft. Although he played tackle in college, it is believed he could also bump inside to guard. Regarded as a big guy with great feet, he sounds a lot like Steelers former seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum, who was believed could move to guard as well. Beachum ended up being a starting tackle for the Steelers, so who knows which position Grey will ultimately end up with the Steelers, if any at all.

R.J. Prince was on the Steelers practice squad last season and was hoping to develop into the Steelers plans at guard. Patrick Morris was also on the Steelers practice squad last season as a center. Both players will need to show great improvement just to hold their positions from 2018.

J.C. Hassenauer comes to the Steelers as a center from the AAF. Additionally, the Steelers added to guards from SEC schools in Garrett Broomfield (LSU) and Fred Johnson (Florida). Buried on the bottom of the depth chart, all of these players will have to really shine in order to stick with the team into September.

By trading up to draft Devin Bush, the Steelers showed urgency, commitment and even a little restraint

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 7:50am

The Steelers aggressively moved up to find their man—Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush—in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. But did they find their man? And was the price too high? That’s the thing about taking chances, you never know unless you try.

When does a good team draft in the top 10? When that good team is perhaps one player away from being a great one.

Despite losing some potent offensive production, the Steelers are still believed to be a good team as they prepare for the 2019 regular season. But how will they become a great team? What will put them over the top?

Heading into the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft on Thursday night, the popular opinion was that finding a suitable replacement for Ryan Shazier—a player who would make the defense faster from sideline to sideline and up the middle—was key to getting the Steelers where they needed to be.

And that’s why it was so refreshing to see Pittsburgh, armed with the 20th overall selection and nine other draft picks, part with said 20th pick, a second-round pick from 2019 as well as a third-round pick from 2020 in-order to move up 10 spots to take Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush.

Not only was it refreshing, it was exciting. It was exciting to see the Steelers act aggressively and get the man they think can be a difference maker.

It remains to be seen if Bush will be that guy, of course.

On paper, he certainly has the physical tools, big-time production and above the neck acumen to be the player the Steelers need in order to take their defense to the next level.

Despite the excitement, despite the overall giddiness in Steeler Nation, it wasn’t surprising to read and hear comments from some fans who were concerned with what Pittsburgh had to part with in order to move up 10 slots. I get that. Believe me, all one has to do is research the ratings for Thursday night and the entire draft weekend to know how much fans enjoy the process and how much they covet draft picks.

Yes, it is true, if Bush doesn’t turn into a productive NFL player, this deal—the 20th overall selection in 2019, 52nd overall selection in 2019 and a third-pound pick in 2020—was a bad one. But you could have said the same thing had the Steelers stood pat at 20, and that player turned out to be a bust.

Any first-round pick that fails to develop is a bad one. Any trade that doesn’t work out is a bad one. Any free agent signing that doesn’t pan out is a bad one. For that matter, any play call during an NFL game that doesn’t work is by definition a bad one.

Again, when it comes to the parting of premium draft picks, there will always be buyer’s remorse with some fans—heck, maybe even with team executives. But as a long-time Pirates fan who has watched them hoard minor league prospects (minor league prospects are the baseball equivalent of nameless, faceless unused NFL draft picks) in lieu of parting with them in-order to acquire stud veterans who can help them win now, I liked what the Steelers did on Thursday.

Yes, by giving away their second-round pick, the Steelers could be missing out on the next Le’Veon Bell, Stephon Tuitt or JuJu Smith-Schuster. But they could also be avoiding the next Limas Sweed, Mike Adams or Senquez Golson.

In other words, there are no guarantees with second-round picks.

And the way the team went about its aggressiveness was very Steeler-like—very calculated, if you will.

General manager Kevin Colbert went on record almost immediately—the Steelers Radio Network—and said the team absolutely would not have made this deal if it didn’t have two third-round (or Day 2) draft picks at its disposal. In other words, the Steelers were willing to pay, but they had a budget they weren’t willing to exceed.

I’m sure the Steelers have entertained the thought of trading up in recent years, only to find that the price was just too steep. This year, the price was right.

Many experts say the very best part of the 2019 NFL draft exists in the second and third rounds. That means there is great value to be had. It doesn’t necessarily mean there are can’t miss studs in those rounds.

Obviously, there’s no such thing as a can’t miss stud in any part of the draft, but you certainly increase your odds of finding one the closer you get to the top of the first round.

The Steelers have been criticized in the past for being conservative and just letting the draft board fall to them, a philosophy that has caused Pittsburgh to just miss out on some players who could have made a difference at positions of need—William Jackson III (2016); all three first-round inside linebacker prospects (2018), etc, etc.

This time around, the Steelers took a proactive approach, one that could bare some great fruit sooner rather than later.

Did the Steelers finally find their answer at inside linebacker with the drafting of Devin Bush? Again, there are no guarantees, but at least now they have the opportunity to find out.

To quote Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

2019 NFL Draft: Grading the Steelers 7th round pick Derwin Gray

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 6:52am

With the 219th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Maryland OT Derwin Gray

The Pittsburgh Steelers used their final selection of the 2019 NFL Draft, a seventh round selection, to select Maryland T Derwin Gray. Gray is a massive individual with upside. He is the type of project that Mike Munchak would get his mitts on and mold into a potential starting NFL offensive lineman. Problem is Munchak has moved on and now the responsibility to coach up the youngster falls on new OL coach Shaun Sarrett. Can he help Derwin Gray reach his full potential? There is work to do, that is certain. With the depth the Steelers presently enjoy along the offensive line, especially at the tackle positions, could this season be a red shirt year for Gray so to speak?

Gray has ideal size and strength, including extremely long arms. However, he needs alot of work on his footwork and his balance. He is a better pass blocker than run blocker but projects to the right side due to his lack of elite quickness. Maybe even a move to the inside. It may be a year or two before Derwin Gray makes an impact on a NFL roster, and that is contingent on the young man continuing to work hard to make his NFL dreams a reality.

The attributes and ability seems to be present. Therefore I am giving the Derwin Gray selection a grade of B.

What overall grade do you give this selection? Please vote in the attached poll and explain why in the comments section below.

Welcome to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Derwin Gray! From all of us at Steelers Nation!

Podcast: Which Steelers rookie not named Devin Bush will have the biggest impact?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 5:33am

In the latest episode of “The Standard is the Standard” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold from the week that was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers season is over, but the news is just starting to heat up. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers, including a fun game of “True or False!”

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The 2019 NFL Draft results
  • Mike Tomlin Comments
  • Biggest Impact Players
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams 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.

2019 NFL Draft: Know your new Steelers enemies after Day 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 04/29/2019 - 4:36am

Who did AFC North foes add to become future villains for Steelers Nation?

The third day of the NFL draft brought even more Pittsburgh Steelers for Steeler Nation to cheer for. The list includes a punishing rusher, a couple of sack masters and a 6’8” TE. But with that, it serves up more players to serve as instant rivals to boo. Here’s who each team welcomed to oppose Pittsburgh as new members of the AFC North. Baltimore Ravens

GM Eric DeCosta continued to upgrade the offense in a big way. The Ravens got even speedier with Justice Hill and added, not just a backup QB, but a possible offensive weapon in Penn State’s Trace McSorley. All in all, it was a pretty solid first draft for DeCosta. Ravens have the potential to be epic on offense, but their defense was pretty close to being ignored.

Round 4 Pick 113

RB Justice Hill - Oklahoma State

Round 4 Pick 123

OL Ben Powers - Oklahoma

Round 4 Pick 127

CB Iman Marshall - USC

Round 5 Pick 160

DL Daylon Mack - Texas A&M

Round 6 Pick 197

QB Trace McSorley - Penn State

Cleveland Browns

After so many years of appropriately being labeled so, the Browns are working hard to no longer be mistakes by the lake. After no First Round selections, GM Phillip Dorsey looked to follow up a solid Day 2 by bolstering their defense. The Browns picked up Mack Wilson, who could be a find in Round 5 and added to an already strong secondary.

Round 4 Pick 119

S Sheldrick Redwine - Miami, Fla

Round 5 Pick 155

ILB Mack Wilson - Alabama

Round 5 Pick 170

K Austin Seibert - Oklahoma

Round 6 Pick 189

OL Drew Forbes - Southeast Missouri State

Round 7 Pick 221

CB Donnie Lewis Jr. - Tulane

Cincinnati Bengals

Most notably, the Bengals picked up depth at QB and OL with Michael Jordan. It was kind of an underwhelming draft up top for Cincy, but they added decent depth on Day Three.o

Round 4 Pick 104

QB Ryan Finley - North Carolina State

Round 4 Pick 125

DL Renell Wren - Arizona State

Round 4 Pick 136

OL Michael Jordan - Ohio State

Round 6 Pick 182

RB Trayveon Williams - Texas A&M

Round 6 Pick 210

LB Deshaun Davis - Auburn

Round 6 Pick 211

RB Rodney Anderson- Oklahoma

Round 7 Pick 223

CB Jordan Brown - San Diego State

How many of the above will haunt the dreams of Steeler Nation and who? That question will take a bit to be answered. But to quote Timbuk3 from 1986, “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”.

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