Let’s get to it:
JIM DIBERT FROM FAIRBORN, OH: How many times have the Steelers picked in the top five in the first round of the NFL draft in the past 50 years?
ANSWER: Going back 50 years would bring us to 1968, which was the final year of the Bill Austin regime, the year before Chuck Noll was hired. Starting in 1968, the Steelers have drafted in the top five twice – and they selected Joe Greene fourth overall in 1969 and Terry Bradshaw first overall in 1970. Expanding the search just a little bit to include the top 10 picks of a draft, the Steelers have made eight total picks in the top 10 of a draft since 1968. Including Greene and Bradshaw, the team’s other top 10 picks in the first round were USC tackle Mike Taylor in 1968, Grambling wide receiver Frank Lewis in 1971, Temple guard John Rienstra in 1986, Purdue cornerback Rod Woodson in 1987, Georgia running back Tim Worley in 1989, and Michigan State wide receiver Plaxico Burress in 2000.
BRUCE GRAY FROM KINGMAN, AZ: In regards to the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell, what are some important upcoming dates?
ANSWER: In terms of dates that already appear on the NFL calendar, I see four: Feb. 19 is the first day that teams can place the franchise or transition tag on players; March 5 is the deadline for teams to place the franchise or transition tag on players; March 11 is the day that agents can begin contract negotiations with players due to become free agents at the start of the new league year, and if Le’Veon Bell is going to be one of those guys who ends up signing a big contract early in free agency, I would foresee talks starting on this date; and then March 13 – at 4 p.m., to be exact – is the start of free agency for 2019. There is one other potentially critical date not marked on the NFL calendar, and that’s the date when an NFL arbitrator ends up ruling on the amount of the transition tag should the Steelers elect to use it on Bell. Right now, there is disagreement between the NFL and the NFLPA over what that transition tag amount should be based on Bell sitting out the 2018 season while under the franchise tag. The league sees the number at around $9 million, and the union sees it at something around $14.5 million. That dispute is headed to arbitration, in my opinion, and the date a determination is made on that also could prove to be a significant one in this process.
DARRELL GRANT FROM NORTH CHESTERFIELD, VA: Will the Steelers receive a compensatory pick for Le’Veon Bell in the spring?
ANSWER: If Le’Veon Bell is not tagged and leaves the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent, any compensatory draft pick the Steelers would receive would come in 2020, not 2019.
TOMMY FALLERONI FROM RICHMOND, TX: Out of the last six drafts (2013-18), the Steelers have drafted at least two defensive backs in every draft except one, which was 2014. I'm not a fool to think that a team can never have enough good defensive backs, but that's 12 defensive backs selected in the last six years and to many fans the Steelers could use another high pick on a cornerback this year. Is it bad drafting, the wrong personnel decisions, poor coaching, or something else?
ANSWER: The kind of defensive backs the Steelers are hunting in the draft, the kinds of defensive backs who are difference-makers in the NFL, typically are selected in the top half of the first round. During the period you cite – 2013-18 – the Steelers have spent the following picks on defensive backs: two No. 1s, two No. 2s, one No. 3, two No. 4s, four No. 5s, and one No. 7. Picking defensive backs on the third day of the draft, which includes Rounds 4 through 7, is largely a crap-shoot with most of those players – but not all of them – being career backups, special teams guys, and people to fill out a practice squad. The Steelers’ two No. 1 picks during that time were Terrell Edmunds and Artie Burns, and while it’s too early to make a definitive judgment on Edmunds, it is fair to characterize Burns as a disappointment to this stage of his career. In watching the NFC Divisional Round Game between the Eagles and the Saints, I would contend that one of the key players in that game was New Orleans cornerback Marshon Lattimore, and the reason I believe that traces to the two interceptions he made. The first one stopped some early Eagles momentum, and Lattimore accomplished it by being in tight coverage deep down the field, locating the ball, and then going up and high-pointing it to make a clean catch in front of the intended receiver. The second one was a split-second reaction where the ball went through the receiver’s hands, and Lattimore flashed great hand-eye coordination to make the catch and clinch the outcome for his team. That is the kind of cornerback the Steelers need, and Lattimore was the 11th pick of the 2017 draft. This is not excuse-making for the Steelers, but an attempt at an explanation as to why they continue to spend draft picks on this position.
TIM GAYDOSH FROM MOUNT AIRY, MD: Does Antonio Brown have the right to veto a trade or are the Steelers free to trade him to whatever team works for them?
ANSWER: He does not have any veto power over a potential trade.
JOSEPH PARHAM JR. FROM PHILADELPHIA, PA: Have the Steelers ever had a player make the All-Pro team and not be voted to the Pro Bowl?
ANSWER: As a matter of fact, that happened last season. Cam Heyward was voted first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press, but he was not among the original players named to the AFC squad for the Pro Bowl.
KEITH MILLER FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC: I’m trying to figure out the complete draft pick order for 2019.
ANSWER: That cannot be done for any team until the NFL awards the compensatory picks for the 2019 draft. All I can tell you for sure right now is that the Steelers have the No. 20 pick in the first round.
GEORGE MCWILLUMS FROM BUTLER, PA: I've asked this question several times now with no response from you. Could the Steelers theoretically take Johnny Manziel into camp and see what he can do? The worst that can happen is what? Do you think this is a bad idea?
ANSWER: You’re right, I have been ignoring this question, and I was doing so as an attempt at kindness to you. Remember to look both ways before you cross the street.