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Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin showed great strength in defending Mason Rudolph

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 12:30pm
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Mason Rudolph needed someone to come to his defense in the face of the continued accusations leveled against him by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. Who better to do so than Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin?

“Leader of Men”

That Tweet by Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph on Monday afternoon was in reaction to his head coach, Mike Tomlin, going on national television—ESPN’s First Take—and defending him against the continued racial allegations that Browns’ defensive end Myles Garrett doubled down on in an interview that aired on Outside The Lines over the weekend.

To be perfectly honest with you, after I watched the interview in its entirety—an interview you can see a snippet of by clicking on the Rudolph Tweet—I wanted to run through a brick wall.

To quote Dave Schofield, my feelings were along the lines of, “That’s my head coach!”

I’m sure Rudolph was thinking the same thing as he watched his boss go to war for him by answering question after question from Stephen A. Smith.

As Tomlin told Stephen A., when the Outside The Lines feature aired on Saturday, he felt very strongly that he wanted to defend his quarterback because the accusations by Garrett were serious enough not only to damage Rudolph’s character, but “his professional pursuits.”

Let’s be real, Mike Tomlin doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of time for the media. Like a lot of head coaches, he’d much rather keep reporters in the dark and, to quote the late, great Chuck Noll, “Feed them manure.”

Like he said after the infamous Chicago fiasco a few years ago, he likes to stay out of the BS. He likes to stick to business, so for him to feel it necessary to go on national television and defend his guy and also take ESPN to task for its portrayal of the whole Rudolph vs. Garrett incident, to me, earned him even more of my respect than he already had.

Tomlin could have stayed out of the fray directly and perhaps indirectly offered a statement or two through various media portals, but instead he chose to go to bat against one of the most hard-hitting and controversial sports media personalities in the country in Stephen A. Smith.

That showed tremendous leadership. That showed strength. That showed that he, too, can double down on his belief in something. And Tomlin never wavered in his defense of Rudolph, in his belief that his guy didn’t say what he was accused of, that he was satisfied with the thoroughness of the league’s investigation into the details of the brawl that took place between the Steelers and Browns in the waning seconds of a game at FirstEnergy Stadium last November 14.

When you hear Tomlin’s players—both past and present—talk about his character, one of the most common traits they mention is his directness and his honesty. I think all players—all employees who are engaged in their life’s work, really—want their bosses to be that way with them, to let them know the deal up front.

Ever wonder why Tomlin is always highly ranked in those polls of the most popular NFL head coaches opposing players want to play for? Tomlin offered a great reason why on Monday by going to bat for his backup quarterback, a guy who may not even figure into the team’s plans beyond another season or two, on a controversial topic that few people like to talk about.

Tomlin didn’t just represent Mason Rudolph on Monday, he represented the Steelers organization, and, believe me, there is very little chance that organization would be a party to something as sordid as the covering up of a racial slur—especially by their own player. That’s not what the Pittsburgh Steelers stand for, and I know they wouldn’t have sent Tomlin out to be the national spokesperson for this ongoing debacle if they didn’t believe Rudolph.

There’s simply too much at stake from an organizational standpoint.

Also, Tomlin, one of the most prominent African American coaches in all of professional and collegiate sports, wouldn’t put his reputation on the line if he didn’t believe in his player and his organization.

The Steelers had their name dragged through the mud last offseason thanks to former players like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, and they remained fairly quiet in the face of that.

I think on Monday, with a “hacked off” head coach Mike Tomlin demonstrating such great strength in sticking up for Mason Rudolph, the Steelers showed that they’re not going to remain so quiet this offseason.

ESPN goes on the defensive regarding their handling of the Myles Garrett/Mason Rudolph reports

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 11:30am
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin was critical of the network’s coverage this weekend, an ESPN representative reached out to BTSC to share their side of the story

Following Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin‘s appearance on First Take Monday morning, I ran a story at Behind The Steel Curtain which highlighted Coach Tomlin’s comments. Although the majority of what Coach Tomlin had to say was in defense of quarterback Mason Rudolph, he was also critical of how ESPN framed the narrative on their show Outside The Lines.

As the author of the article, I was personally contacted by a representative at ESPN who wanted to offer a rebuttal to Coach Tomlin‘s statement and wished to provide our readers context. The statement by Coach Tomlin in which ESPN is disputing is when Coach Tomlin stated, “It was a thorough investigation done by us and the National Football League. I don’t think it was represented during that piece.” Tomlin when on to state, “Nobody on that field as a member of the Cleveland Browns or Pittsburgh Steelers corroborated what was said by Myles Garrett. That was founded by us and the National Football League. At no point during that piece this weekend that was stated.”

In the article which ran on Monday at Behind The Steel Curtain, we summed up Coach Tomlin‘s feelings on the subject by saying, “Tomlin took great offense to the panel on ESPN’s Outside The Lines and how they failed to mention the conclusion of the investigation by the NFL.”

In wanting to clarify the statement, the representative from ESPN brought up the fact there is was a graphic which ran during the show (shown below) stating the NFL found so such evidence of Garrett’s claims. In addition to running the graphic, Jeremy Schaap also mentioned the NFL found no evidence of his claim and Mina Kimes also asked Garrett the question in the interview.

ESPN

What ESPN is taking exception to is the statement that coach Tomlin said they never mentioned the investigation found no evidence, but they believe they mentioned it twice.

The representative from ESPN offered to send me the link to the Outside The Lines episode for my viewing purposes. In reviewing the episode, I can understand where ESPN is coming from. Unfortunately, I believe they are not completely correct in their assessment.

Mike Tomlin’s problem with ESPN not mentioning the results of the investigation is the fact ESPN never mentioned there was an investigation. Coach Tomlin said, “It was not represented during that piece,” which is a factual statement. Not only did ESPN not even begin to mention the depth of the investigation of the NFL which included player interviews, officiating crew interviews, and reviewing all audio and video sources available, they never even mentioned that an investigation took place. Yes, they said the NFL found nothing. But why not mention the extent to which the NFL went to in order to find something? Why did they specifically leave out that there was an investigation? Instead, they glossed over it so easily it could be implied the NFL wasn’t truly looking to find anything.

This is exactly what Coach Tomlin took exception to. Rather than say there was a thorough investigation and lay out how the evidence lies completely in Mason Rudolph’s court, they just easily brushed off that there wasn’t any evidence found with no explanation. By not outlining the depth to which the NFL and the Steelers sought out the evidence, the other side of the story was given little to no credibility during the piece. Instead, ESPN chose to focus on only one side of a story with no evidence to support it, ultimately seeking “views” and “clicks” instead of truth.

When given the opportunity to respond, the representative from ESPN wanted to reiterate that they did mention the findings of the NFL multiple times even though they did not include an explanation that there was a detailed investigation.

I would encourage you to judge the situation for yourself. Unfortunately, the entire Outside The Lines episode cannot be shared due to copyright reasons. OTL has yet to release just the roundtable discussion about Garrett’s interview. I’ve been working with ESPN personnel on being able to share the segment but it has not been made available at this time. If it becomes available, it will be posted here with an update.

If you are one of the viewers who were able to view the roundtable discussion on Outside The Lines, was Mike Tomlin accurate in saying they did not present both sides of the argument fairly? Hopefully you are able to eventually draw your own conclusion. If you are able to view the video at some point, make sure you notice the word “investigation” is nowhere to be found in the segment.

Steelers officially hire Ike Hilliard as their wide receivers coach

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 11:04am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After varying reports over the last week, the Steelers have made their official choice to coach their wide receivers in 2020

After more than a week of various reports about the Steelers choice for their new wide receivers coach, the team has officially announced Ike Hilliard as their choice for the 2020 season.

We have hired Ike Hilliard as wide receivers coach.

MORE: https://t.co/efgLmRNeab pic.twitter.com/6O5J10Md2h

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) February 18, 2020

Last Sunday it was reported the Steelers had hired Bryan McClendon from the University of South Carolina. On Monday, another report surfaced that former Steeler Jerricho Cotchery was also in the running for the position. By the end of the week, it was reported that the position had come down to the two candidates. On Saturday, South Carolina reported McClendon would be returning for the 2020 season. While it was believed the Steelers would soon be selecting Cotchery as their choice, the Steelers announced Hilliard as their wide receivers coach on Tuesday.

The details of the process of the selection of Hilliard over Cotchery are not clear at this time. Regardless, the Steelers now have their coach in place as they head into the NFL combine, free agency, and the NFL draft.

Hilliard’s coaching experience started as an assistant wide receivers coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2011, but in 2012 Hilliard was brought in as a wide receivers coach under Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins. But 2013 saw him leave Washington and head to the Buffalo Bills with the same position title. In 2014 he came back to the nation’s capital under Jay Gruden, and stayed there through the 2019 season. During the 2019 season, Hilliard helped to develop a group of rookie wide receivers which included Terry McLaurin, Kelvin Harmon and Steven Sims. McLaurin finished the season with 58 receptions for 919 yards and 7 touchdowns, and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team.

Drafted as the seventh selection overall in the 1997 draft by the New York Giants, Hilliard played eight seasons in New York where he caught 30 touchdowns. Hilliard finished his playing career in Tampa Bay where he played four seasons and added another eight touchdowns. Hilliard might be best known for his 10 reception, 155 yard, and two touchdown performance in the 2000 NFC Championship game. After defeating the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 to advance to Super Bowl XXXV, the Giants eventually fell to the Baltimore Ravens.

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

Several offseason moves make it too early for mock drafts or targeting certain players

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some key decisions to make this offseason before people start talking about drafting certain players.

Draft all offense. Draft all defense. Draft a mix. Draft best available. Draft for needs.

Slow down a bit here, Steeler Nation. When people throw out specific names of players the Pittsburgh Steelers should draft in the second round, let alone in the seventh round, it baffles me. The NFL Draft is over 2 months away. The NFL Scouting Combine has not even taken place. The Steelers have not even signed their free agents. The biggest name of those free agents is OLB Bud Dupree. The Steelers are weeks away from when they will sign their first free agent from another team, but people want to focus on what positions we will draft?

Steelers Nation needs to take a breather from going hog wild on who they want, let alone the position that they want for the reasons listed below.

Scenarios that will throw people’s mock drafts into turmoil.

  1. Dupree is the linchpin to the whole offseason scenario. Do the Steelers sign him for $10 million plus per season on a long-term deal, franchise tag him for over $16 million or let him walk? Nothing dictates how the offseason goes more than what general manager Kevin Colbert does with him.
  2. How does the team fill the nose tackle position after Javon Hargrave? Fan favorite punching bag, Daniel McCullers carries a large cap number for his past productivity ($1.5 million) but is he seen as an actual starter in 2020?
  3. The Steelers offensive line was trash opening up holes against the rush but struggled to keep the team’s young quarterbacks clean and upright in a clean pocket.
  4. There will be cap casualties, but who will they be? This all depends on how the Steelers deal with Dupree. How do the Steelers fill those holes? Will there be serious holes or not, come draft weekend?
  5. Will any previously unknown medical red flags plummet a rookie’s stock or get injured during the combine?
  6. Will a Steeler fan favorite implode or explode during the combine that will greatly affect his stock?
  7. Dak Prescott and Laremy Tunsil both hurt their draft stock with boneheaded mistakes off the field between the combine and the draft. Will there be players such as them who cost themselves millions?

It is understandable for people to be churning out mock drafts or putting their own personal mock drafts in their signatures. It is fun playing GM in the offseason and the draft is the best part for some. Looking at players who could be the missing cog for a Super Bowl run makes many salivate. Being excited about a player who may fall during the draft for whatever reason and ends up being a mega steal later in the draft. Just keep in mind that in the next two-plus months this process will be fluid, so don’t set your hopes and expectations too high. That tumble down the backside of the hill is long. For me, I will take this offseason more like a turtle than a hare.

A 4-Step plan to improve the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 7:48am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers need a better offense in 2020, and here is a simple 4-step plan to do just that next season.

I’ve been writing for the past several weeks on some things the Steelers should consider when assessing their needs on offense this offseason. This article pulls all of those ideas together into a four-step plan I believe provides the best chance to build an offense that will allow them to compete for a championship in 2020.

To begin, let’s gets the obvious out of the way: the return of our franchise quarterback will help immensely. The offense suffered in all facets because of Ben Roethlisberger’s absence in 2019. The passing game was abysmal because the quarterbacks’ tasked with filling his shoes, Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges, were neither ready nor capable of being quality NFL starters. This in turn effected the rushing attack, which was poor because defenses did not respect the pass and therefore loaded the box to defend the run. A rash of injuries across the board, from linemen to backs to receivers, contributed to the offensive woes as well. A healthy Roethlisberger, and (hopefully) better health overall, will improve the situation.

That said, Roethlisberger’s return alone won’t fix things. The Steelers have deficiencies on offense with or without QB7. They will no doubt be better at quarterback with Big Ben, even if, at 38 years old and coming off of major elbow surgery, he is unlikely to resemble the player to whom we’ve grown accustomed. No matter how Roethlisberger fares, they must address their other areas of need to compete for a championship,

Also, it needs to be understood that the Steelers, lacking both a first-round draft pick and significant salary cap space, are not in position to acquire a star or even high-impact player whose mere presence will transform the offense. They are not signing Derrick Henry or Amari Cooper. They are not drafting Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb. And no, I do not expect (nor do I desire) a reunion with Antonio Brown.

Neither are they likely to completely overhaul the offense. They won’t morph into the 49ers and put a fullback on the field and try to run the ball down people’s throats. They’re unlikely to copy Kansas City and get overly-creative with their pre-snap movement and formations. They’ve built this offense around what Roethlisberger likes and what he executes best: namely, 11 personnel formations, a one-back run game and limited pre-snap movement so he can study and diagnose defenses. That’s the offense we should expect in 2020. However, if the Steelers are smart in addressing their needs and in assessing players who can fill them, and with tweaking the scheme to make it more difficult to defend, they can put a better version of that offense on the field than what we’ve seen recently.

On to the plan then. Let’s take a look at four ideas on how the Steelers should proceed this off-season:

1. Acquire an athletic tight end

I’ll admit it up front: the current tight end situation in Pittsburgh gives me anxiety. The team’s starter at the position, Vance McDonald, looks like the prototype for what the Football Gods had in mind when they conceived the idea of a tight end. He is big, fast, physical and looks like he was created in the same Soviet lab that spawned Ivan Drago. The man should be a human wrecking ball on offense.

And yet... he isn’t. That’s not to say McDonald is bad. When he’s healthy he’s quite good, actually. But he’s not always healthy, he doesn’t block as well as it seems he should and sometimes, even with Roethlisberger in the lineup, he just disappears in games. The latter point is on the coaching staff as much as it’s on McDonald. He just feels under-utilized here. Maybe, with Antonio Brown soaking up so many of the targets in 2018 and the quarterback situation in 2019, McDonald has been a victim of circumstance. Or maybe he is what he is - a good tight end limited by injury and inconsistency as opposed to a potentially dominant tight end who hasn’t broken out yet.

Honestly, I think it’s the former. Because of that, the Steelers need a quality second tight end on the roster. What they have is Nick Vannett, a decent complimentary piece who may sign elsewhere, and Zach Gentry, a project. For me, tight end is the weakest position group on the offense.

The Steelers will likely scrape together enough free agent money to add depth at a couple of positions. If I’m Kevin Colbert, I’m looking immediately to the second-tier of free agent tight ends to spend it. The first tier — Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper and Eric Ebron — will likely command more than we can afford. But that next group, in particular Dallas’ Blake Jarwin, is interesting.

Jarwin would be a great compliment to McDonald. He’s not as big at 245 pounds but he is quicker, can line up wide or put his hand in the turf, has better hands and can really get up the seam of a defense. Jarwin had a breakout, three touchdown game against the Giants last fall that showcased this versatility. He would give the Steelers the vertical tight end threat they were hoping to acquire back in 2016 when they signed LaDarius Green from the Chargers. If he’s not breaking the bank somewhere else, Jarwin would be a great addition in Pittsburgh.

If the Steelers choose to put their free agent money elsewhere, Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet is the best of a thin tight end draft class. Kmet is not the athlete a guy like Ebron is but he’s more well-rounded and would become the most complete tight end on Pittsburgh’s roster. I can’t see the best tight end in the draft lasting until pick 49, however, and the Steelers are not in a position to go up to get him. So, if not Kmet in round two, they need to target a tight end in round three, where LSU’s Thaddeus Moss would bring pedigree (he’s Randy’s son), athleticism and experience in an offense like Pittsburgh’s. Dayton’s Adam Trautman, a poor man’s Hunter Henry-type, would be an interesting pick as well.

For all the merits of drafting “best player available,” the Steelers have needs to fill. Acquiring an athletic tight end should top their list.

2. Start rebuilding the offensive line

Speaking of needs, the offensive line has not been addressed much in recent years. The Steelers have drafted just four offensive linemen since 2012 and only one (Chuks Okorafor) in the third round or higher. It’s time to change that. With left guard Ramon Foster a probable salary cap casualty, center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro now in their 30s, and their top reserve (BJ Finney) a strong candidate to depart in free agency, restocking the OL cupboard is essential.

Provided Bud Dupree is re-signed, the Steelers need to draft a guard or tackle with one of their first two picks. Conceivably, they could wait until a later round to pull the trigger. But those late round developmental-types (Wesley Johnson, Jerald Hawkins, Derwin Gray) haven’t panned out in recent years. The jury is still out on Okorafor but he too was a project coming out of mid-major Western Michigan. The Steelers should target the most developed linemen they have a shot at in round two or three and take one without hesitation.

Let’s clarify the term “developed.” By this I mean guys from established programs with skills that fit what the Steelers do. This means players who can block zone and gap schemes and protect the passer. The Steelers should look for athletic linemen who can move their feet, and most importantly, are as close to NFL-ready as can be expected. They should not draft on “upside” or “potential.” Numbers like wing-span and arm length can make a prospect attractive but can be fool’s gold if a kid doesn’t develop. For 2020, the Steelers need to know what they’re getting.

So which linemen stand out? Wisconsin center/guard Tyler Biadasz would be a great selection due to his combination of size (6’3-320), quickness, technique, footwork and leadership (the best lineman on one of the best run-blocking units in the country). Biadasz is slotted by most draft-niks as an early second round candidate and is questionable to be there when the Steelers make their initial pick. A great second option would be LSU guard Damien Lewis, who possesses many of the same traits as Biadasz (big, strong, aggressive and a stalwart on a great college line) but is not quite as mobile. Both players fit the Steelers’ scheme and played big games against some of the best competition in college football. Both project as NFL starters and could compete with Finney (if resigned) or whomever the Steelers move inside if Finney leaves. Neither Biadasz nor Lewis is a sexy pick but both would immediately help solidify the interior of the line. Each are worth a second-round pick if available.

If the Steelers can land one of Kmet, Biadasz or Lewis in round two, it will be a win. If all three are gone by the time they select, it will be disappointing but not shocking. Either way, addressing their needs at tight end and along the line should be the top two priorities of the off-season on offense.

3. Add a receiver who can run

The Steelers have three really interesting receivers in Juju Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Diontae Johnson. All three are 23 years old, still learning the NFL game (and thus still improving) and possess varying strengths.

Juju is the most accomplished. He is big and strong and can run any route. Washington is the vertical threat, adept at using his thick frame to gain body position on deep balls. Johnson is the quickest, a slasher with great agility in tight spaces. The ceiling is high for this young group, especially with Roethlisberger slated to return.

What the trio lacks is straight speed. This is not a fast offense and adding speed, particularly on the outside, would be beneficial. The Steelers tried to do so last season when they added Donte Moncrief, whose best quality was his ability to get deep. Moncrief didn’t work out but the idea was well-intentioned. A player who can get vertical will open up the middle of the field for Juju, Johnson and the tight ends and will get better one-on-one match-ups for Washington.

For brevity’s sake, I’ll give you one name I find interesting in this regard: Breshard Perriman. I mentioned Perriman in this piece a few weeks ago (to a lukewarm response) but I’m doubling down on him. He’s a 4.24 freak of nature who is just 27 and has been under-the-radar productive the past two seasons in Cleveland and Tampa Bay. He should be affordable and, if we can convince him to come here with three young receivers ahead of him on the depth chart, would add a dimension the receiving corps currently lacks. Perrimen would be a role player here but his role is an invaluable one. Speed does so many things for an offense. He wouldn’t need to catch a ton of balls to justify his worth. That’s exactly the sort of free agent investment we need this off-season.

4. Maximize Jaylen Samuels

Running back is the position group at which I find myself most conflicted in terms of how the Steelers should proceed. As I discussed with Dave Schofield on last week’s Stat Geek podcast, the Steelers have been largely devoted to the feature back approach under Mike Tomlin and have provided no evidence that would indicate a change of heart moving forward. So, with James Conner slotted to fill the feature back role in 2020, and with Conner having a well-documented history with injuries, AND with Conner set to enter his contract year, it’s worth asking whether the Steelers should seek his replacement early in the draft. With faster versions of Conner like Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor or Georgia’s DeAndre Swift both possibilities to last until the middle of the second round, selecting a new back to “feature” would be tempting.

I just don’t see it happening. The Steelers have invested third, fourth and fifth round picks at the position the past three drafts in Conner, Benny Snell Jr. and Jaylen Samuels. There are a lot of young players in that running back group and my sense is the organization would rather let them grow together than bring in another fresh face. If that is indeed the case, it will be essential they get the most out of each of their backs.

The roles of Conner and Snell (and perhaps Kerith Whyte, who did some good things as a change-of-pace back and kick returner late last season) are pretty well defined. Conner will be the bell cow and get the bulk of the touches; Snell will spell him, provide injury insurance and perhaps serve as the short yardage and goal line back; and Whyte, should he make the roster, will be the scat-back they use to get to the edge.

That leaves Samuels. Samuels showed promise as a rookie in 2018 but was lost in the shuffle last season. His most memorable role was as a wildcat “quarterback,” which worked once then became increasingly disastrous. Samuels can do a little bit of everything: he has soft hands, surprisingly quick feet for a big back (225 pounds), can pass protect reasonably well and can line up just about anywhere in the formation.

Evolving Samuels’ role could really open up the offense. For me, this means using him in more packages with Conner where he can serve as an H-back, slot receiver, second back in the backfield or just about anything else the offensive staff can draw up. The addition of Matt Canada could prove huge in that regard. Canada was Samuels’ offensive coordinator at North Carolina State when Samuels produced nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage as a sophomore in a jack-of-all-trades role. If anyone can provide fresh insight on how to unlock Samuels’ potential, it is Canada.

If the Steelers are to retain their core trio of backs in 2020, as I believe they will, maximizing Samuels’ diverse set of skills will be integral to their success.

Let’s put it all together, then. Here’s how my ideal off-season unfolds from here:

Re-sign Dupree. Let Hargrave, Vannett and Finney walk. Sign Perriman or Jarwin in free agency. Draft Biadasz or Lewis in round two. Draft the TE or speed receiver we didn’t get in free agency in round three. Use Matt Canada’s input to carve out a better role for Samuels. Then take some of the load off of Ben’s shoulders (elbow?) by leaning more on the run game and dressing up the offense with more play-action, pre-snap motion and multiple formation groups (more on the latter as we get closer to the season). Piece of cake, right?

One man’s ideal may be another man’s folly (I’m sure you’ll let me know in the comments below). But if I’m Kevin Colbert, this is the plan I’m executing. If the Steelers can do so, they should be back in the championship hunt next season.

Steelers Fact or Fiction: ‘AB’solutely all about the guy we should no longer talk about edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

A BTSC author takes six bold statements surrounding Antonio Brown and the current state of the Steelers and labels them as Fact or Fiction.

I know, I know. We need to stop talking about this guy. But former Steeler Antonio Brown just cannot stay out of the news and BTSC is not doing it’s job if they stay quiet on it. After appearing on 93.7 (The Fan) last week and apologizing to Ben Roethlisberger again on social media this week, it seems like Brown is lobbying for a return to Pittsburgh. There are so many questions that have surfaced from this. One rogue BTSC writer has issued some bold statements on this topic and labels them as fact or fiction. Are his opinions on point? Only time will tell.

Antonio Brown’s best shot at redemption would be with the Steelers

Fact

You can never truly tell what’s going on in the mind of a man who posts social media video of himself throwing penis-shaped candy at the mother of his children , in front of said children. But It is obvious that the troubled WR wants back in the NFL and it might have dawned on him that mending fences in the zip code of his glory days may be the best bet. He may have been advised that the Steelers’ reputation in the league may help him with the league as well.

A Brown return would happen only on Ben Roethlisberger’s approval.

Fact

100%. That’s why Brown was issuing an apology this week to the man that he so openly disparaged over the past 14 months, that is until now. Ben Roethlisberger still has plenty of stroke in the organization and it seems like if he wanted Brown back for a shot at a ring, his endorsement would speak volumes.

The next football Brown will be playing will be in a prison yard.

Fiction

After his arrest in late January for alleged assault and burglary, (according to SI.com) Brown was released under a $110,000 bond and must also consent to a mental health evaluation, submit to drug and alcohol testing, wear a GPS monitor, relinquish his passport, forgo access to firearms, avoid contact with the truck driver he allegedly injured and stay out of legal trouble. If he violates any of these conditions, a judge could order him incarcerated while he awaits trial. While this seems like something Brown might be unable to comply with, it is enough to scare most people straight. There will be repercussions for his recent brush with the law, but probation and community service seem more likely than a prison sentence.

Brown would insist on huge money to return.

Fiction

It would be ill-advised to do so. Gummy Richard’s (Brown’s) best bet is to bet on himself with a prove-it deal with massive behavior and performance incentives. The cash-strapped Steelers could only do it in that manner for salary cap reasons and to protect themselves.

A good number of fans would welcome No. 84 back with open arms.

Fact

At the end of the day, fans want to see their team win. Many will compromise their principles for another Super Bowl ring. I think there are more fans with that philosophy than those that can’t forgive actions. We saw this with Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. While many were glad to see KC win for the first time in 50 years, I had a hard time rooting for Hill based on accounts of his indiscretions. There are some that have the same feelings towards Ben Roethlisberger and Ray Lewis as well. Right or wrong, in AB’s case, I think a lot of fans will forgive and mostly forget if it means a championship.

Still, AB will never play for the Steelers again

Fact

After all of the disturbing allegations, the verbal damage that has been done and the team as a whole to think about, I just don’t see all of the planets aligning in Brown’s favor to see him ever don black-and-gold again.

Are these statements valid? We will soon see. Of course it is merely the author’s opinion, but what matters most is all of your opinions on the matter. Please state them in the comments below.

Podcast: Nobody wins when it comes to the Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph fiasco

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Q&A” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 took a weird turn when Myles Garrett ripped off Mason Rudolph’s helmet and bashed him on the head with it in Week 11. The rest is ugly history, but the story became headlines again when Garrett maintained that Rudolph used a racial slur upon having his suspension lifted. With the agent of the Steelers’ Quarterback threatening legal action, the situation gets even uglier. Can there be a winner in all of this, the fellas will discuss.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Q&A Show. On this show Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

Bryan Davis and Tony Defeo, of BTSC, 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
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Black and Gold Links: Mike Tomlin throws water on those hot Antonio Brown return to Pittsburgh takes

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 02/18/2020 - 4:35am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Mike Tomlin, while on ESPN, really doused the Antonio Brown return to Pittsburgh rumors.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Well that was fun while it lasted. If you were someone who wanted to see Antonio Brown back in the black-and-gold, sorry for your luck.

Mike Tomlin: Steelers open to helping Antonio Brown – but not to signing him

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

As Antonio Brown continues on an apparent effort to regain favor in the NFL in hopes of continuing his playing career in 2020, his former head coach said not to expect it to be in Pittsburgh.

During his ESPN “First Take” appearance ostensibly to stand up for Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin also was asked about a possible reunion with Brown. Brown of course, starred for the Steelers for nine seasons before a trade to the Oakland Raiders last March. Since Brown was released by the Raiders and (after one game) the New England Patriots, been arrested and faced civil suits.

Although an ongoing NFL investigation hasn’t yet cleared Brown to play without first serving a possible suspension or other discipline, speculation has ensued about what teams might have interest in him.

The Steelers, per Tomlin, “at this time” are not one of them.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • ESPN has butchered the coverage of the Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph issues from the start.

Tim Benz: ESPN coverage of Myles Garrett vs. Mason Rudolph was a disgrace

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The only thing more maddening than the Myles Garrett-Mason Rudolph situation has been ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” coverage of it.

It was biased, agenda-driven and, at times, vengeful.

Not just toward Rudolph. But toward the Steelers as well.

On Thursday, ESPN released a condensed version of an interview between Mina Kimes and the Cleveland Browns defensive star.

A few days before the interview aired, Garrett had been reinstated by the NFL after a season-ending suspension last year. The discipline was the result of Garrett pulling off Mason Rudolph’s helmet and then swinging it at the Steelers quarterback during a Nov. 14 game.

In the piece, Garrett reiterated his claim that Rudolph called him a racial slur prior to the helmet swing.

“He called me a ‘stupid n-word,’ ” Garrett told Kimes.

It’s a claim Garrett didn’t make until his appeal, days after the incident.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Taking a closer look at Myles Garrett’s explanation of the Mason Rudolph incident

By: Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk

Whatever happens moving forward between Browns defensive end Myles Garrett and Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, one thing is clear: Myles Garrett has told a story that he’ll have to own, if/when Rudolph files a defamation lawsuit.

In last week’s ESPN interview, which came only one day Garrett was reinstated by the NFL, Garrett locked in his own future testimony, if/when there’s a reason to testify.

“I go to take him down, he says some words as we’re going down,” Garrett said.

The video of the incident suggests a much more simple explanation for the provocation. Rudolph tried to remove Garrett’s helmet. Garrett didn’t like that, so he tried to remove Rudolph’s helmet. And succeeded. Then, when Rudolph charged at Garrett without a helmet, Garrett swung the helmet and struck Rudolph in the head.

So why is Garrett claiming that he heard a slur from Rudolph amid the scrum that played out? Without semi-plausible justification for Garrett’s extreme reaction, Garrett basically becomes the new Vontaze Burfict — a reckless rule-breaker who plays beyond the limits of the game and who has a short fuse. By claiming that Rudolph used a slur, Garrett’s explosion makes more sense.

What doesn’t make sense is Garrett’s attempt to explain the absence of audio evidence of the slur.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

Mike Tomlin reacts to the allegations made against Mason Rudolph. pic.twitter.com/H2lkcu4YQY

— First Take (@FirstTake) February 17, 2020

#Colts-#Steelers — Minkah Fitzpatrick (pick-six)

• Read the QB as a post safety — Eyes will take you to the ball

• When the QB locks-in, open & break (get a jump on the throw)

• Overalp the seam route here @NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/DdkVN49Ttn

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 17, 2020

#OTD in 1983, Hall of Fame LB Jack Ham retired after an amazing 12-year career in Black & Gold. #SteelersHistory pic.twitter.com/Jdp1wm2Noc

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) February 17, 2020

Latest positional rankings show plenty of options for the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 2:15pm
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers might not have a first round pick, but they certainly will have options when it comes to adding quality talent to their team in the upcoming draft process.

As the 2020 NFL Draft approaches Pittsburgh Steelers fans tend to get depressed. The reality of not having a first round pick can be depressing, even if they received an All-Pro player like Minkah Fitzpatrick in return for that first round pick.

What fans should realize is there is still plenty of talent in the pool for the Steelers to consider, even if their first pick isn’t until the second round. NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks recently released his latest positional rankings, Top 5 at every position, and you quickly realize the Steelers will still have options.

It all comes down to positional needs for the black-and-gold. It is a safe assumption the following positions could be targets for the Steelers with their top pick.

Steelers team needs, in no particular order:

Running Back
Wide Receiver
Offensive Guard
Offensive Tackle
Tight End
Center

Once you look at the positions of need, and take a look at the rankings below, you have to see there will be plenty of players still on the board when the Steelers pick No. 18 in the second round.

Looking at the aforementioned positions, and then at the rankings below, who do you think will be available when the Steelers make their first pick of the draft, and which players would you like them to target?

Let us know in the comment section below this article, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for NFL Free Agency and the NFL Draft.

Quarterbacks

1. Tua Tagovailoa

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

2. Joe Burrow

School: LSU | Year: Senior (RS)

3. Justin Herbert

School: Oregon | Year: Senior

4. Jordan Love

School: Utah State | Year: Junior (RS)

5. Jacob Eason

School: Washington | Year: Junior (RS)

Running Backs

1. D’Andre Swift

School: Georgia | Year: Junior

2. Clyde Edwards-Helaire

School: LSU | Year: Junior

3. J.K. Dobbins

School: Ohio State | Year: Junior

4. Cam Akers

School: Florida State | Year: Junior

5. Jonathan Taylor

School: Wisconsin | Year: Junior

Wide Receivers

1. Jerry Jeudy

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

2. CeeDee Lamb

School: Oklahoma | Year: Junior

3. Henry Ruggs III

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

4. Laviska Shenault

School: Colorado | Year: Junior

5. Tee Higgins

School: Clemson | Year: Junior

Tight Ends

1. Cole Kmet

School: Notre Dame | Year: Junior

2. Hunter Bryant

School: Washington | Year: Junior

3. Harrison Bryant

School: Florida Atlantic | Year: Senior

4. Adam Trautman

School: Dayton | Year: Senior (RS)

5. Jared Pinkney

School: Vanderbilt | Year: Senior (RS)

Offensive Tackles

1. Jedrick Wills

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

2. Tristan Wirfs

School: Iowa | Year: Junior

3. Andrew Thomas

School: Georgia | Year: Junior

4. Mekhi Becton

School: Louisville | Year: Junior

5. Joshua Jones

School: Houston | Year: Senior (RS)

Guards/Centers

1. Lloyd Cushenberry

School: LSU | Year: Junior (RS)

2. Tyler Biadasz

School: Wisconsin | Year: Junior (RS)

3. Netane Muti

School: Fresno State | Year: Junior (RS)

4. Matt Hennessy

School: Temple | Year: Junior (RS)

5. Robert Hunt

School: Louisiana-Lafayette | Year: Senior (RS)

Defensive Tackles

1. Derrick Brown

School: Auburn | Year: Senior

2. Javon Kinlaw

School: South Carolina | Year: Senior

3. Jordan Elliott

School: Missouri | Year: Junior (RS)

4. Ross Blacklock

School: TCU | Year: Junior (RS)

5. Justin Madubuike

School: Texas A&M | Year: Junior (RS)

EDGE/Outside Linebacker/Pass Rusher

1. Chase Young

School: Ohio State | Year: Junior

2. A.J. Epenesa

School: Iowa | Year: Junior

3. Yetur Gross-Matos

School: Penn State | Year: Junior

4. Terrell Lewis

School: Alabama | Year: Junior (RS)

5. Curtis Weaver

School: Boise State | Year: Junior (RS)

Linebackers

1. Isaiah Simmons

School: Clemson | Year: Junior (RS)

2. Zack Baun

School: Wisconsin | Year: Senior (RS)

3. Kenneth Murray

School: Oklahoma | Year: Junior

4. Patrick Queen

School: LSU | Year: Junior

5. Akeem Davis-Gaither

School: Appalachian State | Year: Senior

Cornerbacks

1. Jeff Okudah

School: Ohio State | Year: Junior

2. Trevon Diggs

School: Alabama | Year: Senior

3. Kristian Fulton

School: LSU | Year: Senior

4. C.J. Henderson

School: Florida | Year: Junior

5. Cameron Dantzler

School: Mississippi State | Year: Junior (RS)

Safety

1. Xavier McKinney

School: Alabama | Year: Junior

2. Grant Delpit

School: LSU | Year: Junior

3. Ashtyn Davis

School: Cal | Year: Senior (RS)

4. Kyle Dugger

School: Lenoir-Rhyne | Year: Senior

5. Antoine Winfield Jr.

School: Minnesota | Year: Sophomore (RS)

Steelers 2020 Free Agent Market Watch: The Outside Linebackers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 12:35pm
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

BTSC takes a look at the top free agents at each position whether or not they are in the Steelers price range. Here are the OLBs living on the edge.

Disclaimer: The author realizes that the team is burning in Salary Cap Hell and can’t pony up much money for free agents. However, you never know what they have planned and it’s the author’s responsibility to highlight the free agent options. It’s like the lyric in the Joe Jackson song, “You Can’t Get What You Want”... Til you know what you want.

The Steelers have an uncertain situation when it comes to the position of Right Outside Linebacker. Bud Dupree could be franchise tagged or test the waters of free agency. Will they pony up a ton of money for the player that finally blossomed in Pittsburgh with 11.5 sacks, 17 QB hits, 4 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries or do they draft one? If he walks, do they try to drum up money to bring in one through free agency? As unlikely as the prospect is, Kevin Colbert could get lucky under the couch cushions. Here the list of available free agents should the Steelers find themselves able to shop come March.

Shaq Barrett - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2019 Stats - 16 games, 19.5 sacks, 37 QB hits, 6 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries

A disappointment in Denver, Barrett had a career year for the Bucs in 2019 by finishing just a half-a-sack shy of 20. He was pretty good in run support as well. Barrett, if not franchised, will break the bank in free agency. Definitely not an option for the Steelers.

Dante Fowler - Los Angeles Rams

2019 Stats - 16 games, 11.5 sacks, 16 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery

Like Dupree, Fowler didn’t break out until the end of his rookie deal. However, the third-overall selection of the Jags in 2015 was traded to the Rams in 2018 and blossomed his first full year in Los Angeles with the same amount of sacks as Bud. If the price isn’t right to keep Dupree, Fowler won’t be an alternative.

Kyler Fackrell - Green Bay Packers

2019 Stats - 16 games, 1 sack, 10 QB hits, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries

Fackrell had 10.5 sacks in 2018, but the Utah State product did not start a single contest in 2019 due to the signings of Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith. The 28-year old knows how to get the passer and could be a low cost option to replace Dupree.

Matt Judon - Baltimore Ravens

2019 Stats - 16 games, 9.5 sacks, 33 QB hits, 4 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries

Following the departures of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs, Judon became a devastating pass rusher for the Ravens defense. Like the Steelers with Dupree, the Ravens could put the franchise tag on Judon for about $16 million. Baltimore has more cap room to do so for the player that was fourth in the league with 33 QB hits, almost double that of Bud. If the Steelers can’t afford Bud, Judon will be out of range as well.

Yannick Ngakoue - Jacksonville Jaguars

2019 Stats - 15 games, 8 sacks, 15 QB hits, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery

Man, what I wouldn’t do to hear yinzers try and pronounce this 24-year old’s surname. A bargain as a third-rounder for the Maryland Terps in 2016, Ngakoue has become a devastating pass rusher for the Jags. The young edge rusher fits better in a 3-4 defense, but might not fit under the cap in Pittsburgh.

Other Notable Free Agent Outside Linebackers

Markus Golden - New York Giants

Jordan Jenkins - New York Jets

Vic Beasley - Atlanta Falcons

Aaron Lynch - Chicago Bears

Terrell Suggs - Kansas City Chiefs

Mike Tomlin takes to ESPN to defend Mason Rudolph and send shots at the sports network

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 11:47am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers head coach made a rare pubic television appearance on ESPN, and made sure he made his thoughts and feelings known to the viewing audience.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin appeared on ESPN’s first take Monday morning to defend quarterback Mason Rudolph against the allegations brought up against him again over the weekend. Tomlin spoke with Stephen A. Smith about the situation and his reaction to the reiteration of the allegations this past weekend.

“I took offense to it to be quite honest with you.” Tomlin stated. “We’ve had a desire to move on from the moment it happened. That’s what we attempted to do. When this interview came back up this weekend, we thought Mason needed to be defended.”

As much as Tomlin would like to move on from the situation, when Myles Garrett took the opportunity to go on ESPN with, as Rudolph called it, an “attempt to assassinate his character”, Tomlin felt there were multiple pieces of the story which were not being reported. Tomlin took great offense to the panel on ESPN’s Outside The Lines and how they failed to mention the conclusion of the investigation by the NFL.

“These accusations are serious. Not only in terms of Mason Rudolph’s character, but his professional pursuits. Nobody on that field, as a member of the Cleveland Browns or the Pittsburgh Steelers corroborated what Myles Garrett said. That was founded by us and the National Football League.”

Tomlin went on to explain how the story concocted later by Garrett didn’t fit into how these situations usually transpire following an incident of this nature.

“I was on the field immediately after that altercation and subsequently after the game. I’ve got a lot of personal relationships within that organization over there in Cleveland. At no point did anyone within that organization come forward and say, ‘Mike, heads up, we’ve got a situation here,’ or something of that nature that you would expect that comes with those type of allegations.”

Tomlin continued his frustrations towards the rehashing of the story and ESPN’s handling of the situation over the weekend.

“I fully support Mason Rudolph. We, as an organization, fully support Mason Rudolph. To be quite honest with you, we were hacked off with what we saw this weekend.”

Tomlin made sure he continued to raise the point that the Steelers we compliant with the NFL and their investigation of the incident which concluded there was no evidence to support Garrett’s claim.

“We received word from those guys (The NFL) and we took them at their word that a thorough investigation was done and no evidence was founded.”

When asked about Rudolph’s punishment from the incident, Tomlin implied that, even though he had his role in the altercation, Rudolph has been blamed for more than what actually took place.

“It’s been a lot of negativity around Mason Rudolph. He got fined $50k for essentially getting beat up. His reputation was tarnished because of the allegations, none of which was founded. He was a quarterback in the losing circumstances at the end of a football game. Obviously, he was an active participant in the altercation, but a lot of the things that have gone on beyond that, I struggle with.”

Tomlin was asked about another allegation by Garrett in which the Steelers and the NFL had evidence supporting his claim but have been working together to suppress it. Tomlin called the notion of being part of a cover up “laughable” before answering the question of how the Steelers would handle the the accusation if it was true.

“We would not participate in the covering up of such issues, and we would obviously do what is appropriate in dealing with those circumstances.”

As for the course of actions Mason Rudolph could take from a legal standpoint, Tomlin did not wish to comment on what Rudolph and his legal team deem to be necessary for the situation. Instead, Tomlin offered up support for continuing to defend Rudolph.

“I think his reputation needs to be defended and defended aggressively.”

To see the full interview, see the video below:

Why Browns TE David Njoku should be on the Steelers’ radar

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Steelers need help at the tight end position, but could it come from within the AFC North division?!

Tight end Vance McDonald could be one of the biggest salary cap casualties for the Pittsburgh Steelers before the 2020 season kicks off in March. McDonald has been a disappointment since the trade that brought him over from the San Francisco 49ers prior to the 2017 season. Jettisoning the former Rice standout for Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku just makes sense.

In three seasons with the Steelers, the seven-year pro has missed nine of a possible 48 regular season games. This is not surprising with his lengthy injury riddled history. The bothersome parts are his salary and his production. In 2017, his cap hit was reasonable at $2.6 million, but the 14 receptions were a major disappointment. The 2018 season was different with career highs in receptions and yards compared to his $2.1 million cap hit. The problem is, that season might just have been the pinnacle of his career. In 2019, McDonald regressed with 38 receptions for 273 yards and a career low 7.2 yards per reception. Terrible numbers considering his $5.8 million cap hit.

McDonald carries a cap hit of $7.1 million in 2019 while leaving a meager $1.5 million in dead cap behind. He is just too expensive for his production and injury history. This is where Njoku enters the picture.

Njoku, the 29th overall draft pick in the 2017 draft had a mundane rookie season with 32-387-4 stat line in 16 games. His 2018 season was the breakout the Cleveland Browns had been hoping for. The former Miami Hurricanes broke out for 56-639-4 stat line in 16 games with 14 starts. The 2019 season was a forgettable one. In Week 2, Njoku broke his wrist and was placed on injured reserve designated for return. Even though he started practicing on November 20th, he was not activated until December 7th. His first return to game action was frustrating for the 6-4 246 pounder where he saw just 21 snaps and nine routes run with three targets and one reception.

The next two weeks, Njoku was a healthy scratch and finished the season in Week 17 with zero targets. While the Browns have brought in a new coaching staff, the 5-41-1 line also showed a clear disconnect with franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield.

As Njoku is a first rounder, the Browns (or another team) have until May 30th to exercise their fifth year option for the 2021 season. (The salary is guaranteed for injury only.) This leaves the Browns plenty of time to mend bridges or find a trading partner such as the Steelers. His 2020 cap hit is a reasonable cap hit of $3 million.

Take into account his pedigree, relatively cheap 2020 cap hit, his potential which is amplified by his 2018 season, to go along with the Browns probably taking an early day three draft pick and you have a player who checks all the boxes for the Steelers. GM Kevin Colbert may have to perform some draft day magic to acquire a third rounder high enough that would be acceptable by new Browns GM Andrew Berry.

The Steelers are in dire straights with their cap situation. Colbert’s approach of restructuring contracts and kicking cap hits down the down has finally caught up with the team. Colbert will have to get creative to fill holes by cap casualties and solidify a position that has been in flux since the retirement of Heath Miller. Njoku could be that player. Do the new Browns regime see Njoku as a fixture for their young offense or an expendable cog? While some in Steeler Nation have pipe dreams of landing Austin Hooper, others want to bring in Tyler Eifert (Those fans clearly do not remember the Ladarius Green debacle.) I for one would like to see the Steelers pry Njoku away from their division rivals.

Mock Draft Monday: The Steelers look to add a wide receiver with their top pick

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to CBSSports.com, the Steelers should pass on their choice of tight end to take the ninth best receiver

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season has now been over for more than a month, so it’s time to get into the off-season mindset. Although free agency comes first on the calendar before the 2020 NFL Draft, the NFL Combine will occur before either of them. With that said, it might be nice to have an idea as to some of the names associated with the Steelers in the second round. The Steelers’ first round pick has already been named an All-Pro player as Minkah Fitzpatrick can be thought of as the Steelers’ choice. So let’s look at prospects who may be available at the 49th selection and see what they could bring the the Steelers in 2020.

When talking about mock drafts or NFL free agency, you have to first identify the team’s main needs for the off-season. Hare are some of the projected positions of need for the Steelers in no particular order:

Wide Receiver
Running Back
Offensive Line
EDGE Rusher
Tight End

There could be other positions added to the list, but when it comes to what position the team will target with their first pick, it is certainly up for debate.

In the latest three-round mock draft by cbssports.com, they have the Steelers addressing the wide receiver position before anything else. While I believe the Steelers will look to fill bigger needs with their first pick in the draft, it is important to look at all the possibilities presented by various mock draft outlets.

Check out the pick:

49. Pittsburgh Steelers | K.J. Hamler| WR | Penn State | SOPH |

As many players are declaring their eligibility and preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine, there are plenty of players most fans have not seen play in 2019. Since this is the case, here is a breakdown of Hamler according to thedraftnetwork.com:

Route Tree - Love his wiggle and false breaks, he’s constantly lying to defenders with head fakes and fluid frame to sell a hard break before whipping back across his frame. Has navigated MOF traffic fairly well and does well to break to daylight with burst through top of routes. Can win most with space to threaten 360 degrees.

Hands - There are some instances of body catching, not super surprising giving his stature. He’s got good concentration and does haul in majority of targets that get into his catch radius, even if he’s not all hands. He’ll revert to the chest to dig out low throws instead of plucking with hands turned over.

Contested Catch Ability - This isn’t a primary trait but he’s got enough to work with here that he’ll win his fair share of reps. Isn’t going to box anyone out but his body adjustment and spring will give him some chances to adjust late and elevate to the football. Catch radius isn’t exceptionally large, however.

RAC Ability - Electric. This might be the best thrill ride in the 2020 draft. His open field vision is top shelf and once he’s broken to daylight he’s rarely roped back in. He’s got dynamic quickness and lightning fast feet, can stop on a dime, gracefully leap over trash at his feet and quickly get himself back up to top speed.

Football IQ - He’ll be well served to find some more physicality in his game and exposure to boundary reps and winning vs. press is going to be a work in progress. His play making skills are evident pretty quick on film and he’s got a lot of nuance to how he attacks defensive backs on his route stems.

Vertical Receiving Skills - Slippery. If he’s given room to run, he’s got potential to run past defenders to get behind the safety. His acceleration and burst vs. off coverage will eat ground quickly and he can stress SAFs who draw him in the MOF. His ball skills over the shoulder aren’t fully consistent but he didn’t get a lot of accurate targets here.

Change of Direction Ability - Human joystick — pretty stellar to watch him stop, start, pivot, start again and break four pursuit angles all on the same play. He’s got a ton of spring and foot speed, showcasing dynamic lower half to plant and drive at steep angles. He’s a “hold your breath on every play” presence in the open field.

Speed - Does he have elite long speed? Perhaps. He’s got plenty of juice and his initial burst is very strong, allowing him to close ground quickly and get defenders on their heels. He’s got effective vertical separation skills but will get bottlenecked against physical defenders so releases become super important to his game.

Competitive Toughness - He’s lean. Plenty of room to fill himself out, but at what cost to some of his special skills? He plays tough and scrappy but he’s not dictating physical terms to anyone in the secondary or at the LOS. Must win with finesse and quickness, which shouldn’t be a problem. But more patient or quick footed defenders can get into his grill a bit.

Blocking Ability - Lack of length, lack of strength and lack of anchor will box him into a role that avoids setting the hook to the D-gap. He’s willing and when working backside cut off he’ll get inside positioning well enough to stuff up defensive flow. But don’t ask him to play point man on screens or crack down on LBs.

---

Best Trait - Route Running

Worst Trait - Physicality

Best Film - Michigan (2019)

Worst Film - Ohio State (2019)

Red Flags - None

Summary - KJ Hamler projects as a dynamic complimentary WR in the NFL. Hamler’s lack of physicality likely pegs him as a primary slot receiver, but there’s never been a better time to be a slot in the NFL. Hamler has the route running and run after catch skills to command a high percentage of targets in an NFL offense and his short area quickness will make him a handful to account for on routes run near the sticks. Still young and can afford to add a bit of mass but he’s got a clear path to impact.

For all you who are preparing yourself for the draft, what do you think of the selection? Would you be on board with the Steelers taking Hamler with their first pick, albeit in the second round? Or should the team target another position/player at that spot? Or are you like me and, even though I like the player, would prefer to see the Steelers address a different position with their top pick? Let us know in the comment section below, and remember these mock drafts are merely speculation and caused to create discussion among the fan base.

The NFL would have nothing to gain by covering up a racial slur by Steelers QB Mason Rudolph

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 6:34am
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

What would benefit the NFL more? Protecting a racist Mason Rudolph or providing Myles Garrett, a man who committed one of the most violent on-field acts in recent memory, with an excuse that may have justified his actions in the eyes of many? If Garrett is to be believed, it’s the former.

The ugly incident that took place in the final seconds of a game between the Steelers and Browns last November 14 at Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium has been brought back into the spotlight in recent days.

If you’ll recall (and who can really forget it?), a nasty fight broke out between Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and Browns’ defensive end Myles Garrett, when Garrett took Rudolph to the turf on a short pass play at the end of a game Cleveland was leading by two touchdowns.

Rudolph took exception to this, and the two went at it in a fight that ultimately resulted in Garrett ripping Rudolph’s helmet off and bashing him over the head with it.

This led to multiple fines and suspensions—including a three-game suspension for center Maurkice Pouncey who violently came to Rudolph’s defense by attacking Garrett (the suspension was reduced to two games upon appeal) and an indefinite suspension for Garrett through at least the rest of the 2019 regular season and postseason.

The reason the Ugly Brawl At The Mistake By The Lake has come back into the spotlight in recent days is because Garrett’s indefinite suspension has been lifted and he’s now eligible to play again in 2020.

Another unfortunate reason the violent brawl has been called back onto the stage of public debate is because Garrett, who stated during his appeal last November that a racial slur directed at him by Rudolph was the reason he lost all reason, doubled down on that accusation during an interview for ESPN’s Behind The Lines that aired Saturday morning. Not only did Garrett accuse Rudolph of calling him a ‘stupid n-word’ at some point during or after he took the quarterback to the turf, he implied that the NFL covered up any audio evidence that may have existed.

Below is a quote from the Garrett interview, courtesy of Cleveland.com, where he implies that a cover-up took place:

“Most quarterbacks wear mics in their helmets. He somehow lost his helmet and had to get another one without a mic. There were guys who were mic’d up near me—near us—during that time who didn’t hear anything, and from what I’ve heard, there [may] have been audio during that game that could’ve heard something or could not have heard something, but they don’t want to say.”

“So something was said,” Garrett continues. “I know something was said. Now whether the NFL wants to acknowledge it, that’s up to them.”

To sum up what Garrett is saying: Nobody actually heard Rudolph utter this racial slur, Rudolph didn’t have a helmet with a mic (by the way, how does Garrett know that?), the microphones the other players were wearing may have picked up the audio, but the NFL won’t admit that such evidence could exist and is covering for Rudolph. (To put it in deadbeat tenant terms, Garrett mailed his rent—postage stamp and everything—but the post office must have lost it.)

That’s quite the stretch, even for a man of Garrett’s size and reach.

It’s too bad Garrett isn’t a journalist, because I would demand to know his sources.

As for the racial slant to this whole thing—you know the part that may haunt Rudolph for the rest of his life?—Garrett had this to say:

“But I don’t want to make it a racial thing, honestly. It’s over with for me, and I’m pretty sure it’s over with for Mason, so we just want to move past it and keep on playing football.”

Garrett also said in the interview that any racial slur uttered by Rudolph was no justification for what he did—smashing him over the head with a helmet.

Please.

If he didn’t want to make it about race, he wouldn’t have made it about race. If there was no justification for his actions, no excuse—not even that he was on the receiving end of the very worst of all racial slurs—would have been offered up for why he committed a violent act that could have potentially killed another human being.

The accusation is clearly an attempt to justify his actions.

As for a cover-up? That really makes no sense.

What would benefit the NFL more: Protecting a low-profile backup quarterback such as Mason Rudolph by burying audio evidence that he called another player the n-word or providing Myles Garrett, one of its up and coming defensive stars—a potential multi-time Defensive Player of the Year—with perhaps the ultimate excuse for why he almost committed manslaughter on national television?

No, it wouldn’t have prevented a lengthy suspension, but it would have opened the door for public support and sympathy to come flooding Garrett’s way.

Why would the league be so afraid to expose Rudolph for being a racist—or at least using that particular slur? We’re not talking about a sacred cow like Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. We’re talking about a backup quarterback who may never be more than a fringe player for the entirety of his career.

Protecting a racist backup quarterback at the expense of an up-and-coming defensive superstar seems like quite a strange sword for the NFL to fall on.

Is Garrett suggesting the league is simply afraid to broach the subject of race? That subject is broached every time someone brings up the fact that there aren’t many minority head coaches and executives. That subject is broached every time a player kneels during the National Anthem in an attempt to raise awareness of racial issues.

The NFL doesn’t shy away from the subject in those cases, why would it now, for Mason Rudolph?

The NFL could have severely punished Rudolph for hurling a racial slur at one of its stars and used it as a shining example that there is no place in its league for such hate.

The whole thing smells bad to me, and the odor seems to be coming from Garrett’s direction. Fortunately for him, his exceptional talent will allow him to put this all behind him and go on and have a stellar NFL career. As for Rudolph? Unfortunately for him, he’s likely not going to have the kind of career that will make people forget that such an accusation was leveled against him.

People will always wonder.

Someone is lying, of course. If it’s Garrett, I just hope he comes clean before his accusation becomes a permanent stain on Rudolph’s legacy.

Myles Garrett may be ready to move on, but Mason Rudolph may never get that chance.

Podcast: Devin Bush’s upside is something to get excited about

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “Home and Hater” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over, and the Steelers lost their final game by losing to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17, ending their record at 8-8.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Home and Hater Show. On this show Jeff Hartman and Lance Williams break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Highlighting Devin Bush and his trajectory
  • Week in Review
  • Steelers Q&A
  • 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.

Black and Gold Links: 3 players getting back to health in 2020 could make all the difference

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 02/17/2020 - 4:32am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over. After finishing the year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, has another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at if just three players get healthy, and stay healthy, it could be the difference between contender and pretender for the Steelers in 2020.

Let’s get to the news:

  • 3 players is all it could take. Really? Yes, really.

Return to health by 3 skill players could benefit Steelers in 2020

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers expect a healthy Ben Roethlisberger to cure many – but not all — of the offensive problems that plagued the team in 2019.

The NFL Draft can address other weaknesses, and general manager Kevin Colbert isn’t discounting a return to health by three of the Steelers’ top skill position players.

Injuries to running back James Conner, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and tight end Vance McDonald also contributed to the Steelers having one of their worst offensive seasons in franchise history.

With those three skill position players missing a combined 12 games to injury, the Steelers finished No. 29 in rushing, No. 31 in receiving and No. 27 in scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game while finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Was Myles Garrett’s verbal accusations worse than the helmet swinging?

John Steigerwald: Myles Garrett’s verbal attack on Steelers’ Mason Rudolph worse than helmet hit

By: John Steigerwald, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jussie Smollett called. He said he believes Myles Garrett.

You remember Smollett, he’s the gay black actor who claimed he was attacked in the middle of the night on a Chicago street by two white guys wearing MAGA hats, who used racial and homophobic slurs while putting a noose around his neck and dousing him with bleach.

Most of the media came to his defense, and Smollett even managed to cry during an interview with Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America.” Roberts came close to crying, too.

Of course, it was a hate-crime hoax and just last week Smollett was indicted on six felony counts of disorderly conduct. The city of Chicago also would like Smollett to pay $130,000 to cover the cost of the investigation.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • A sad story about the former Steelers wide receiver.

Eli Rogers playing XFL game on day of mother’s funeral

By: Michael David Smith

DC Defenders wide receiver Eli Rogers is playing today’s XFL game with a heavy heart.

Rogers’ mother died this week and her funeral is today, according to the ABC broadcast of today’s game.

Rogers chose to play, and on the first drive he played very well, catching all three of the passes thrown to him and gaining 50 yards as the Defenders marched down the field and scored a touchdown on their opening possession.

The 27-year-old Rogers had a very promising season as a rookie with the Steelers in 2016, catching 48 passes for 594 yards. But he couldn’t match that production in 2017 or 2018, and he was released before the start of he 2019 season.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

"Minkah Fitzpatrick is a serious upgrade - physically and mentally."@merrilhoge breaks down film from @minkfitz_21's first year in Pittsburgh.

FULL : https://t.co/1wlpUlTnMU pic.twitter.com/1dWYuTDua3

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) February 17, 2020

Stay off the road when The Bus is coming through.@JeromeBettis36 pic.twitter.com/UoAIoYrPLH

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) February 16, 2020

Watch the worst take of all hot takes regarding Ben Roethlisberger

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/16/2020 - 8:13pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When you think you’ve heard the dumbest comments ever, someone says something like this about Ben Roethlisberger.

I get it. It is the slow season for the National Football League. Post Super Bowl and pre-NFL Free Agency can crawl along like a snail, and because of this many outlets have to try and find unique twists/takes on regurgitated content to seem “fresh”.

We all have to do it, including this website, but some take it to new extremes almost every year. Whether it is Ian Rapoport spouting off about Ben Roethlisberger leaving the team years ago, or now Thomas Davis, linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers, stating Roethlisberger could have come back in 2019 but quit on his team.

I’m not joking.

Just watch the video below:

Ben Roethlisberger had season ending elbow surgery last september. He still hasn't been cleared to throw a football. But @ThomasDavisSDTM thinks Big Ben quit on the Steelers in 2019 and he really could have come back. This is whack pic.twitter.com/wcEB8DgVar

— #24 was my GOAT (@ViewsFromThe50) February 16, 2020

February 21st is the date Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was told was the next key appointment on Ben Roethlisberger’s calendar. General Manager Kevin Colbert said the same thing when he met with local media this past week. This appointment will be when Ben Roethlisberger will find out if he can begin to throw objects as he attempts to come back from his first season-ending injury.

But, Thomas Davis, let’s ignore facts.

It is this type of content which drives fans away from major media outlets, and hopefully they find their home with people who only follow and cover the Steelers, from a fan perspective.

With that said, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they press on towards NFL Free Agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.

Let’s be honest, the XFL is inferior to college football

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/16/2020 - 11:25am
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The XFL may have better players than Division I college football (although, that’s highly debatable), but one is small-time professional football, while the other is the very best college football has to offer. That’s why it’s a weak comparison to make by people trying to convince you to watch the XFL.

It’s Week 2 of the 2020 XFL reboot. Can you feel the excitement?

In fairness, the ratings for last week’s official re-launch of Vince McMahon’s vision of a professional football league (this vision doesn’t include him actually acting like Mr. McMahon) drew fairly decent ratings. As reported by Houstonchronicle.com, the league drew an average of around three million viewers per game for FOX and ESPN.

Not bad and not surprising, considering it was pretty much on par with what the AAF drew last season on its opening weekend.

Can it be sustained? That remains to be seen, but it’s likely going to be an uphill battle.

If you like it, great. As I said last week in my original article about the XFL, I might eventually come around to watching it on a weekly basis. I might get into the top players, the rules and even the quality of play. But it’s going to have to be completely organic.

I just wish people would stop trying to sell me on the idea.

Like, for example, did you know the XFL is superior to college football in terms of the quality of players?

Why is it superior? Is it simply because all of these guys—many of whom never had more than a cup of coffee with the NFL—are out of college eligibility? Does completing your collegiate career turn you into the football version of Superman, where your skills are automatically superior to everyone else’s once you visit Earth? (Kind of a bad analogy, but you get it, right? OK, if you don’t get it, college football is Earth, where all the players have mortal abilities, while professional football is the planet Krypton, where even its most average inhabitants can squash any college player.)

If you want to use that rationale, I guess I kind of get it. But even if that were true—the average XFL team could squash the average collegiate team—it wouldn’t matter.

It’s not necessarily about the players. It’s about the brands. And big-time college football is a superior brand to minor league professional football.

FBS college football is so popular because people want to see the very best that brand of football has to offer. It’s why so many stadiums in the SEC and Big Ten have a seating capacity that hovers around 100,000. That’s why the television contracts for those conferences are so lucrative.

If you notice, people aren’t going out of their way to catch college football games at the Division II, Division III and NAIA level. Why? Each offers an inferior product to Division I college football.

When people tune into see professional football at the XFL or AAF level, they know they’re getting the Division II, Division III or NAIA version of it. They know it’s a vastly inferior brand to that of the NFL.

Could an XFL team led by Landry Jones defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide or Penn State Nittany Lions? It’s impossible to say, but I know the team whose fans scream “Roll Tide!” or “We Are!” would be the more popular one on game day.

Trying to compare college football to the XFL is like trying to compare oranges to those candied orange slices. Yes, an actual orange may be better for you and certainly more nutritional, but, damn it, when you want candied orange slices, you want candied orange slices.

If the XFL really wants people to buy into its product, it has to become the super skim milk of professional football. Yes, most people want whole milk (in this case, that would be the NFL), but if you drink super skim long enough, you might discover that, while it may not have everything whole milk does, you enjoy consuming it just as much if not more.

Be the super skim milk of professional football, XFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 NFL Draft class considered the best in the AFC North

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/16/2020 - 10:05am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When comparing 2019 draft classes, the Steelers were graded the highest of all four teams.

The 2019 NFL season is officially in the books, and while many are looking head to 2020 NFL Free Agency and the NFL Draft, it is worth looking back to last season’s rookie class and seeing how the group as a collective did.

In a recent article by NFL.com’s Nick Shook, he ranked all draft classes for every NFL division. For the AFC North, the Steelers took the top grade among the four teams who call the AFC North home.

Check out the grade Shook gave the Steelers’ 2019 draft class, headlined by inside linebacker Devin Bush:

Pittsburgh Steelers — B+

Round 1: (No. 10 overall) Devin Bush, LB, 16 games/15 starts.
Round 3: (66) Diontae Johnson, WR, 16 games/12 starts; (83) Justin Layne, CB, 10 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (122) Benny Snell Jr., RB, 13 games/2 starts.
Round 5: (141) Zach Gentry, TE, 4 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (175) Sutton Smith, OLB, 0 games/0 starts (now with Seahawks); (192) Isaiah Buggs, DT, 9 games/0 starts; (207) Ulysees Gilbert III, LB, 7 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (219) Derwin Gray, OT, 0 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Devlin Hodges, QB, 8 games/6 starts.

The Steelers’ trade up to select Bush was worth it, proven by his fine rookie play. Bush recorded 109 tackles, four passes defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He’s a stud. A+ for that. The third round provided some value to Pittsburgh in the form of Johnson, who saw additional playing time due to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury issues and caught 59 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes a bigger leap in his second season with Ben Roethlisberger back under center. Layne projected to perhaps answer the Steelers’ long-running question at cornerback, but he didn’t play a defensive snap in 2019, spending his entire time on special teams. Snell, however, flirted with a 4-yards-per-carry average on his 108 attempts, gaining 426 yards and making two trips to the end zone. He’s a worthy backup to James Conner. Gentry saw very little action and caught just one pass in 2019. Smith is now with the Seahawks. Buggs made an occasional rotational contribution, and Gilbert spent his season on special teams. Gray spent 2019 on the practice squad and was signed to a futures contract. The undrafted Hodges initially arose from afterthought who’d beaten out Joshua Dobbs for a roster spot to the symbol of hope for Pittsburgh, though his struggles down the stretch contributed to the Steelers missing the playoffs for a second straight season.

Combine/free agency focus: Joe Haden had an excellent year, but it’s time to start thinking about life after the 30-year-old corner. Pittsburgh spent a third-rounder on Layne last April, and could use another selection this draft on a quality prospect. Mason Rudolph proved he can’t be relied on, as did (ultimately) Hodges, meaning the first pick Pittsburgh owns could be spent on a quarterback. Big Ben turns 38 in March and is currently rehabbing from a serious elbow injury. Another thing to think about: the future at center beyond 30-year-old Maurkice Pouncey. Not an immediate need, but something to consider. Pittsburgh sent its first-round pick to Miami for Minkah Fitzpatrick, so the expectations in the draft should be lowered slightly. With less than $2 million in projected cap space for 2020 at the moment, per Over The Cap, there are going to be a couple of cap casualties (looking at you, Mark Barron). Expect most additions to be made via the draft.

If you are curious how the other three AFC North teams were graded, check out the grades below:

Other AFC North Grades:

Baltimore Ravens — B
Cleveland Browns — B
Cincinnati Bengals — C+

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie class, like all other NFL draft classes, are still a work in progress. Players like Justin Layne are still a giant question mark, but if you wait until their rookie contract, 4 years, expires you will have a better idea as to whether the pick was a boom, or a bust.

Of the Steelers’ rookies who saw significant time in 2019, mainly Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson, Isaiah Buggs and Benny Snell Jr., there is promise with them being players for the team in the future. No, they all won’t be tremendous players, but they can contribute to the overall cause and help the Steelers win football games.

With 2019 now in the history books, how do you view the Steelers’ draft class? Do you think the B+ grade is spot on? Or do you think it is too high, or too low? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2020 league year.

Statistically, JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the least likely receivers to fumble in Steelers history

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 02/16/2020 - 8:39am
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Criticized for his untimely fumbles the last two seasons, it is very rare that Smith-Schuster coughs up the ball

For over a year now I have heard some Steelers fans complain about JuJu Smith-Schuster and his tendency to fumble the ball. Last off-season it came due to his fumble at the end of the game against the New Orleans Saints. Adding in the overtime fumble against the Baltimore Ravens in 2019, there have been two games in which the outcome was greatly determined by Smith-Schuster putting the ball on the turf.

It can’t be denied both of these fumbles were at key moments of two very close and important games. To say the fumble lost the Steelers the game would be difficult to dispute. But these are also the only two career fumbles for JuJu Smith-Schuster in the NFL. While some fans have labeled Smith Schuster a “fumbler,” where he stands statistically in Steelers history does not support this label at all.

In looking at career fumbles with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger leads the way with 106. Breaking them down to 99 regular season fumbles paired with seven postseason fumbles, Roethlisberger only holds the record by a narrow margin. Franco Harris had exactly 100 fumbles with the Steelers with 90 in the regular season and 10 in the playoffs. Franco played a total of 175 games with the Steelers, so his fumbles occurred, on average, at least every other game.

As for JuJu, he has 2 fumbles in 43 career games. Looking just a regular season statistics, it ends up being two fumbles in 212 touches. Just to clarify, a touch is considered either a reception or a rushing attempt.

In the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, of all the players that have had at least 200 touches, JuJu is tied with Jonathan Dwyer and Yancey Thigpen with only two fumbles. The only people who have had less fumbles were four players who had zero: Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala, Warren Keller, Bill Karcis, and Dick Riffle. If you are unfamiliar with the last three names on this list, they were all running back who played for the Steelers prior to 1942.

If looking just at wide receivers and tight ends, of the players with at least 200 touches with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only player with fewer fumbles per touch is Yancey Thigpen. The only difference in the two players is Thigpen had 224 touches versus Smith-Schuster‘s 212. So if JuJu can catch at least 13 more passes without fumbling the ball, he will become the all-time receiver who is least likely to fumble the ball for the Pittsburgh Steelers out of qualifying players. This means all the Steelers’ great receivers such as Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Hines Ward, Louis Lipps, Antonio Brown, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller, and so on all fumbled more per touch than JuJu. Looking at the players listed, all of them had double-digit fumbles while with the Steelers with the exception of Miller who had eight.

So while there is no denying the two career fumbles of JuJu Smith-Schuster have been very costly, to say he coughs up the ball often would be incorrect. Averaging just one fumble for every 100 receptions, the biggest thing Smith-Schuster can do is make sure he is holding onto the ball in the most key situations.

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