Let's get to it:
SCOTT SHILEY FROM BRICK, NJ: I really like what I have seen so far from cornerback James Pierre, even though it is a limited body of work. In your estimation, what do you believe is the best possible scenario for him this season if he were to have his absolute best preseason? Would you see him filling a role similar to Mike Hilton's, or do you think he has a chance to challenge for a starting cornerback role?
ANSWER: Not to get ahead of ourselves, but James Pierre has to start by earning a spot on the 53-man roster. I don't disagree that Pierre earned a spot last season and that the Steelers have a need for cornerbacks who can step up and contribute following the loss of Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson this offseason. But Pierre still is young enough and inexperienced enough that either assuming he is going to be capable or anointing him to a spot he hasn't actually earned would be a mistake. If Pierre shows up at training camp and then uses those practices plus the preseason games to show he has improved and in fact belongs on the field, I believe his best spot would be as an outside cornerback, not as a guy in the slot. But the starters at the outside cornerback positions figure to be Joe Haden and Cam Sutton, and so I could see Pierre competing with Justin Layne for a role as the fifth defensive back in sub-packages, but instead of lining up inside Pierre/Layne would line up in Sutton's spot with Sutton sliding inside, which is what Deshea Townsend did in helping the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII.
BRYAN PATTON FROM BURNHAM, PA: I researched running backs selected in the first or second rounds in the NFL Drafts from 2010-19. In my opinion, there were three duds in the first round (Trent Richardson being most famous) out of 13 No. 1 picks. The second round had, in my opinion, 10 duds out of 18. Do you believe NFL teams look at these types of statistics when drafting, or are they simply basing their decision on the individual?
ANSWER: I don't know how all NFL teams approach the draft, but it makes no sense to me to make a sweeping generalization based on the fact the Browns wasted the third overall pick in 2012 on Trent Richardson. If a team does a thorough evaluation on a player and places him correctly on its board based on the other talent available in a particular draft class, then it becomes a matter of picking the best player available when the team's turn comes. Just because the third overall pick in 2012 was a running back who turned into a bust doesn't mean anything with respect to a subsequent draft, and it works the other way as well. Meaning, just because Carolina used the ninth overall pick in 2012 on an inside linebacker named Luke Kuechly and he was a dynamic player doesn't mean using a top 10 pick on an inside linebacker in a subsequent draft would be a good idea. Once again: it's the who, not the what.
STEVE BRITTON FROM KING'S LYNN, UK: I'm trying to follow the draft a bit closer this year. Is trading picks during the draft very common?
ANSWER: I don't know how you might gauge "common," and so I'm just going to provide you with the raw numbers. In each draft, there are around 255 players selected over the seven rounds, and this number varies only slightly based on the number of compensatory picks that are awarded by the NFL in a particular year. In 2013, there were 36 trades made over the seven rounds; in 2014, the number was 34; in 2015, it was 38; in 2016, it was 33; in 2017, it was 49; in 2018, it was 64; in 2019, it was 54; and in 2020, it was 46. As the statistics indicate, trades have been increasing over the past seven years' worth of drafts.
KEVIN MCKINNEY FROM CHICAGO, IL: Maurkice Pouncey's retirement was a big loss to the offensive line that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of attention. Effective centers are hard to come by, and it's not easy to convert other linemen to the position. Is the team comfortable with B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers have interest in adding a young center to the mix via the draft, but having B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer on the roster gives them a couple of viable options if things don't unfold in their favor as far as adding a player at that position via the draft.
KHRIS CHARITY FROM ELKRIDGE, MD: Looking at what the difference was from James Conner being a Pro Bowl running back in 2018 and the Steelers finishing last in the NFL in rushing in 2020, it appears to be Ramon Foster. Is there any way to talk him out of retirement?
ANSWER: Ramon Foster came to the Steelers as an undrafted rookie in 2009, and he started 145 games for the team during his 11 years in the NFL. Foster had a lot of good qualities as a player and as a teammate, but to pinpoint him as the difference between James Conner being voted to the Pro Bowl and the Steelers finishing last in the NFL in rushing simply isn't accurate.
WILLIAM DOWDELL FROM COCOA BEACH, FL: Relative to inside linebackers, any insight into Avery Williamson and the Steelers having further conversations about a contract for this coming year? Is there an impetus to get that settled before the draft?
ANSWER: After re-signing Vince Williams, the Steelers group of inside linebackers includes six players with some level of NFL experience: Marcus Allen, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Ulysees Gilbert, Miles Killebrew, and Williams. Based on that, my guess is the Steelers are finished adding veteran inside linebackers to the roster.
DEREK LAKE FROM BUSHNELL, FL: Can you see any way possible the Steelers use a No. 1 or a No. 2 pick on an inside linebacker in the upcoming draft? With opponents having two tight ends in the game together, don't you think that having another stud inside linebacker would be a smart move?
ANSWER: The only usage of a No. 1 and/or a No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft that I would oppose more than using them on an inside linebacker would be using them on a quarterback. That's as clear as I can be.
JAMES PARKER FROM SPRINGVILLE, AL: Although, I love Najee Harris and won't complain one bit if we get him in the first round, I still want to know what do you think of Zaven Collins? Is there no way that Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland can step up and be the feature back Coach Mike Tomlin likes to employ, so that we could maybe get this dynamic player?
ANSWER: The Steelers need a feature back if they hope to improve a running game that finished last in the NFL in 2020, and Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland are more complementary than bell-cow backs in the NFL. There is only one place to get a bell-cow, that's in the upcoming draft, and the Steelers absolutely cannot afford to fail to get one.
TIMOTHY PREGANE FROM KAPOLEI, HI: Please update us on the status of unrestricted free agent Alejandro Villanueva?
ANSWER: Things had been awfully quiet regarding Alejandro Villanueva since free agency began on March 17, but there now are reports that he will be visiting the Baltimore Ravens this week. The Ravens are somewhat unsettled at offensive tackle, what with the team having signed starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a five-year, $98.75 million contract extension that binds him to the team through the 2025 season, and also with starting right tackle Orlando Brown, who moved to left tackle when Stanley sustained a fractured and dislocated ankle during a 2020 loss to the Steelers, telling the team he doesn't want to play any position except left tackle moving forward.
RICK BURTON FROM MERIDIAN, MS: What are your thoughts on the Steelers obtaining Adrian Peterson should he really want to join a team with an excellent shot at the Super Bowl, providing he is more interested in a ring than money?
ANSWER: Seriously? Adrian Peterson is a probable Hall of Fame player at some point in the future, but today he's a 36-year-old running back with 15 seasons and 180 regular season games on a body that also has endured 3,493 touches (3,192 carries and 301 receptions) and five separate knee injuries, including a Grade III ACL tear in 2011.
JONATHAN EDWARD FROM FORT MYERS, FL: I was going through the Steelers in the Hall of Fame, and I believe we have a Hall of Fame player in every position on offense and defense except offensive tackle and tight end. Did I miss any positions?
ANSWER: By my accounting, here is the list:
Quarterback: Terry Bradshaw, Bobby Layne
Running back: Jerome Bettis, Bill Dudley, Franco Harris, John Henry Johnson
Wide receiver: John Stallworth, Lynn Swann
Center: Dermontti Dawson, Mike Webster
Guard: Alan Faneca
Defensive line: Joe Greene, Ernie Stautner
Linebacker: Kevin Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert
Cornerback: Mel Blount, Jack Butler, Rod Woodson
Safety: Troy Polamalu, Donnie Shell
As you mentioned, there are no offensive tackles or tight ends, and there also are no defensive ends or kickers either.
JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OH: Are tear-away jerseys allowed in the NFL?