Let's get to it:
EDITOR'S NOTE: In what has become an annual occurrence, I again provide what I hope serves as a cautionary tale for fans who have spent the last couple of days consuming the grades/critiques written in the immediate aftermath of the 2021 NFL Draft. In 1974, the NFL Draft was a two-day event, with the first five rounds being picked on the first day with the final 12 rounds picked the following day.
What the Steelers accomplished on those two days in 1974 deserves to be recognized as the greatest accumulation of talent in professional sports history. Four of the team's first five picks are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a fifth Hall of Famer was signed as an undrafted free agent, and a sixth is the scout who had his fingerprints all over everything.
As a refresher, Lynn Swann (first round), Jack Lambert (second round), John Stallworth (fourth round), and Mike Webster (fifth round) were selected on the first day of that 1974 draft, Donnie Shell from South Carolina State was the undrafted rookie, and Bill Nunn was the scout/artist.
The following was written by a sports columnist and appeared in the Jan. 30, 1974 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a critique on the picks the Steelers made in the first five rounds the day before:
"The Steelers seem to have come out of the first five rounds of the draft appreciably strengthened at wide receiver but nowhere else. They didn't get a tight end, and the ones remaining are more suspect than prospect. They didn't get a punter, although none of the nation's best collegiate punters went in the first five rounds. They didn't get an offensive tackle who might've shored up what could well become a weakness. What they did get was Swann, who seems to be a sure-pop to help; Lambert, who figures to be the No. 5 linebacker if he pans out; and three question marks."
Now, on to your questions:
BOB JACKSON FROM DOHA, QATAR: I've heard the adage that you need to wait three years before evaluating a draft. Knowing what we know now about the 2018 NFL draft, if you were a general manager and had the first pick, is there anyone you would draft over Minkah Fitzpatrick?
ANSWER: No, there is not. Going back and looking over the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, picking any of the quarterbacks would have been wasted, because Ben Roethlisberger is still playing at a high level, and the teams that picked quarterbacks in the first round of that draft now are having to decide whether to exercise the fifth-year options on their rookie contracts. The only player from the first couple of rounds of that draft who would entice me a little bit is Darius Leonard, an excellent player in his own right, but for me a ball-hawking free safety is more valuable and difficult to find than a hybrid linebacker. Over his first three NFL seasons, Minkah Fitzpatrick has been voted first-team All-Pro twice, and in 30 games with the Steelers he has nine interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, plus 136 tackles, 20 passes defensed, a forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, and he returned one of those for a touchdown, too. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, opposing quarterbacks have completed 50.9 percent when targeting Fitzpatrick for 387 yards and three touchdowns, but when his interception total is factored into the equation those quarterbacks have a combined rating of 56.2 against him.
BILL DAVID FROM CASSVILLE, NJ: At the time the Steelers made tight end Pat Freiermuth their second-round pick, centers Creed Humphrey, Quinn Meinerz and Josh Myers were all available, along with Jaylen Mayfield, an offensive tackle I thought the Steelers were high on. Now after hearing all offseason how we need to fix our offensive line, do you have any inside information on this pick?
ANSWER: Pat Freiermuth was the best two-way (blocking-receiving) tight end available in this draft class, and Kendrick Green was a center the Steelers liked a lot. The centers you mention played that position throughout their college careers, while Green played more guard than center in college – as was the case with both Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson, by the way – and Jaylen Mayfield had been identified as a player the Steelers "were high on" by draft prognosticators and not anyone associated with the team. And the Steelers believe they got their left tackle in the fourth round when they picked Dan Moore Jr. from Texas A&M. One final thing: what I kept hearing throughout the offseason was that the Steelers needed to fix their running game, and Najee Harris should have an impact on that.
ERNIE COFFINDAFFER FROM BRIDGEPORT, WV: I have seen Kendrick Green listed at both 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-4. Do you know his actual height and weight?
ANSWER: Typically this would be an easy question to answer, or it wouldn't need to be asked at all, but without an NFL Combine this year there is no clearing house for such information. I have seen Kendrick Green listed at 6-foot-1 7/8, at 6-foot-2 ¾, and 6-foot-4, with his weight in the 305-315 range. Maybe this gets cleared up once the team gets closer to training camp.
DAVID HORCHAK FROM CHERRY TREE, PA: Everyone looks at a punter's average. But there are a lot of punts that need to be shorter due to the distance from the end zone. Are there any metrics that include average punting yards vs. putting it inside the 5-yard line?
ANSWER: There is a category within individual punting statistics that's usually designated "IN20," which refers to punts that are downed or go out of bounds inside the opponent's 20-yard line, and another category designated "TB," which stands for touchbacks, i.e., the number of punts that go into the end zone and thus give the ball to the opponent at its 20-yard line. When factoring a punter's net average, you take the total number of yards and then subtract the touchbacks from that total by multiplying the number of touchbacks by 20. Then divide that by the number of punts and you have the net average. Chuck Noll once told me that the punting statistics he valued were the number of returns a punter allowed and how many yards were averaged on those returns. That's also included among an NFL punter's individual statistics.
RANDY DUVALL FROM HAMPTON, VA: Now that the draft is over and free agents are signed, what do the Steelers intend to do with T.J. Watt's contract – exercise his fifth-year option or award him a contract extension?
ANSWER: The Steelers already announced they are picking up T.J. Watt's fifth-year option, but they also figure to be working on a long-term deal with him. If the long-term deal doesn't get done, there's always the option of the franchise tag being used in 2022.
TOM HAYS FROM BEND, OR: I believe with pre-draft acquisitions and draft picks, the Steelers have nicely filled just about every hole/weakness, except one. The Steelers need at least one and realistically two playmakers in the secondary. Is there even enough money under the cap to think of adding quality players to that room?
ANSWER: If there is any room under the salary cap, the priority would be investing it into a long-term extension for T.J. Watt, but cap space aside, there are no defensive backs who are playmakers available to sign at this stage of the offseason.
JOSHUA CAMPBELL FROM CINCINNATI, OH: The Steelers signed two undrafted free agent linebackers – Calvin Bundage and Jamar Watson. Do they play inside or outside?
ANSWER: They are both outside linebackers.
AIDAN MAGLOCCI FROM CHICAGO, IL: Will there be fans allowed to attend Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College this year, and what is the schedule for that?
ANSWER: It's the hope that the Steelers will return to Saint Vincent College for training camp this summer and that fans will be permitted to attend. But there has been no official determination made at this point, nor have any dates for training camp been announced. All I can suggest is that you check Steelers.com regularly, because any definitive announcement on training camp will be displayed prominently there.
JACK KINCAID FROM MASSILLON, OH: Do you think the Steelers would have selected tackle Christian Darrisaw had the Vikings not done so the pick before Pittsburgh's? Why not Creed Humphrey in the second? And then the Vikings struck another blow in the third round by picking Wyatt Davis right in front of Pittsburgh. Can you imagine the potential of that offensive line?
ANSWER: The idea is not to try to assemble the best offensive line possible but to assemble the best offense to help the team win games. In my opinion, Najee Harris will be more valuable to the Steelers in their attempt to win games than Christian Darrisaw, and I'm not ready to concede that Kendrick Green won't be a better center than Creed Humphrey. And since Wyatt Davis is a guard, there's no spot in the lineup for him, because the starters in 2021 will be David DeCastro and Kevin Dotson.
DENNIS MOSBY FROM NAPLES, FL: Although it is probable that I will be lambasted with sarcasm, I will ask this question anyway: Would the league allow it, and would the Steelers consider giving Najee Harris the number 2.0? The back of his jersey would then read: Harris 2.0. This would be the tip-of-the-hat to the glorious past and a hopeful nod to the future at running back and whatever other "Immaculate" triumphs await us.
ANSWER: I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which the NFL would allow that, or one in which the Steelers would endorse it. From the standpoint of the team, doing that would really put a lot of unnecessary pressure on Najee Harris even before he played his first NFL game, because implying that he's an improved/updated version of Franco Harris, Hall of Fame running back and one of the most significant players/people in franchise history, doesn't do that young man any good. And imagine the can of worms that would be opened if the NFL started approving things like that on players' jerseys. But hey, at least you're not asking me to cut the roster 15 minutes after the draft ended. Read on.
SARAH CAPLINGER FROM BOSTON, MA: Now that the Steelers drafted Buddy Johnson, who do you think the odd man out on the depth chart is, Ulysees Gilbert or Marcus Allen?
ANSWER: And there's one more …
BRADLEY BANKS FROM RENO, NV: Now that Pittsburgh has loaded up on undrafted defensive backs, which six do you think will make the roster, and if you had to guess do you think Shakur Brown could beat out James Pierre for that third slot corner spot?
ANSWER: These rookies haven't even been fitted for a helmet yet.