Best of Asked and Answered: Friday, July 24

Let's get to it:

HERMAN KANE FROM NEW YORK, NY: Mel Blount and Rod Woodson have been considered the best cornerbacks in the history of the franchise. I believe that Jack Butler is the only other Steelers cornerback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I don't know what individual stats were recorded for defensive backs in the era in which Butler played, but to the extent possible could you compare his career to those of Blount and Woodson?
ANSWER: Jack Butler is the Steelers' third cornerback to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he is there on merit. Butler's statistics are remarkable given the era in which he played, which was during a time when an NFL season was made up of 12 regular season games and a defense might face only 300 pass attempts the whole year. Butler played in 104 games for the Steelers, and he recorded 52 interceptions and recovered 10 fumbles to finish with 62 takeaways, which worked out to an average of .6 takeaways per game. In 1953, Butler had nine interceptions in 12 games with Steelers' opponents combining to attempt 372 passes; and in 1957, Butler led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 12 games with Steelers' opponents combining to attempt 234 passes.

Clearly, passing offenses were not nearly as sophisticated during Butler's time, and throughout the 1950s quarterbacks and receivers were nowhere near as proficient at pitch-and-catch. The speed and athleticism of wide receivers was exponentially better during the time Blount and Woodson played, and then once Blount's excellence at bump-and-run forced the league to disallow defensive backs to contact receivers beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage it became significantly more difficult to stop the great quarterback-receiver combinations. But even with the variance of the rules, and allowing for the normal evolution of athletes and their individual skills, Butler was highly productive and completed the decade of the 1950s as one of the top defensive playmakers of his era.

DANIEL CHIATTO FROM SCHAUMBURG, IL: I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I remember as a kid back in the 1960s the Steelers used their first-round pick on an Ohio State running back named Bob Ferguson. I may have misspelled his name, but it was said that he never lost a yard in college. Wasn't he a bust with the Steelers?
ANSWER: The Steelers used the fifth overall pick of the 1962 NFL Draft on Ohio State running back Bob Ferguson, and in 18 games with the team over two seasons he gained 208 yards on 63 carries (3.3 average) and scored one touchdown. Ferguson also caught four passes for 13 yards, and after spending two games with the Minnesota Vikings at the end of the 1963 season, he was out of football. Based on his numbers with the Steelers, I cannot say whether he was able to maintain his "never having lost a yard" designation in the NFL, but I can confirm that he was a bust.

JOE WERNER FROM WEST HENRIETTA, NY: I enjoyed the recent roundtable discussion that had you, Stan Savran, and Mike Prisuta debating which of the Steelers' six Super Bowl winning teams was the best. To flip the script a little, which would you say was the best of the six opponents in those Super Bowl victories?
ANSWER: Based on the fact the 1978 Dallas Cowboys were the defending Super Bowl champions, and had posted a 12-4 regular season record, and brought a team into Super Bowl XIII that contained a Hall of Fame coach (Tom Landry) and six Hall of Fame players (Tony Dorsett, Roger Staubach, Randy White, Rayfield Wright, Cliff Harris, and Jackie Smith), I would list that group as the best opponent.

FRED BURFICT FROM PETERSBURG, VA: Who you think will be the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks on the roster in 2020?
ANSWER: Barring injuries of course, I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which Mason Rudolph is not Ben Roethlisberger's backup this season. As for the No. 3 spot, I believe it will come down to a competition between Devlin Hodges and Paxton Lynch.

KEVIN STRAKA FROM WILKES-BARRE, PA: I've become a huge T.J. Watt fan, especially after his 2019 season in which he displayed an unparalleled motor, amazing versatility, and eye-popping stats. When I heard he came in third in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year, I was shocked. Do you think Watt was deserving of Defensive Player of the Year honors? What more could he have done to convince the voters?
ANSWER: T.J. Watt ended the 2019 season as a first-team All-Pro, and his stats line included 55 tackles, 14.5 sacks, two interceptions, eight passes defensed, an NFL-leading eight forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. As for being voted the Defensive Player of the Year Award, it often comes down to how the team performs in support of the player. As examples, the Steelers' two most recent winners of that award – James Harrison in 2008 and Troy Polamalu in 2010 – benefitted from the team winning the AFC Championship in each of those seasons to advance to the Super Bowl. Along the way to that team success, both Harrison and Polamalu were showcased in significant regular season games and had opportunities to make big plays in important games, which they were able to do. I believe team success was an important factor in New England's Stephon Gilmore being voted the winner of the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2019, because he not only led the NFL in both interceptions and passes defensed, but the New England defense was a contributing factor in the Patriots winning another AFC East Division title and advancing to the playoffs. In a vacuum, Watt's statistics certainly were worthy of supporting a successful candidacy for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, but voters also put those statistics into the context of the team's success. Now, had the Steelers earned a spot in the playoffs despite playing without Ben Roethlisberger for all but six quarters of the regular season, the defense would've gotten a lot of credit for leading the NFL in both sacks and takeaways to support that cause. And I believe that would've enhanced Watt's chances at more postseason individual recognition.

LARRY MORRISON FROM PENSACOLA, FL: Running the ball and playing great defense used to be a recipe for winning. With Ben Roethlisberger up there in age is it worth taking a chance on Leonard Fournette for one year?
ANSWER: You know what also is a recipe for winning in the NFL? Scoring touchdowns. In 2019, Leonard Fournette finished the season with 341 touches – 265 rushing attempts and 76 catches on 100 targets – and he scored a total of five touchdowns. An all-star defense made up of players from the 1976 Steelers, 1985 Bears, and 2000 Ravens couldn't win with that kind of production from the main guy on offense.

NICHOLAS PELCHAR FROM PURCELLVILLE, VA: When the subject is the worst first-round draft picks in NFL history, pundits often list players like Ryan Leaf. I remember the Steelers had the first pick in the draft once and took Dick Leftridge. Did the Steelers pass on any Hall of Fame players in making that blunder?
ANSWER: Dick Leftridge was a running back from West Virginia University, and the Steelers selected him in the first round of the 1966 NFL Draft. Leftridge was the third overall pick in the first round, and after that draft was completed with 305 individuals being selected during the 20 rounds, the only Hall of Fame player to come from that draft was Rams' guard Tom Mack, who was the second overall pick. Even though the Steelers didn't pass on any future Hall of Fame players to select Leftridge, there also is no doubt he was a bust. He played just one season for the Steelers, 1966, and that also was his only season in the league. He appeared in four games and had eight carries for 17 yards and two touchdowns.

JOHN THOMPSON FROM CONNEAUT, OH: Why do most Steelers fans hate the backup quarterback so much? I happen to think that Mason Rudolph is going to be good, but he is as hated as Landry Jones was before him.
ANSWER: If Mason Rudolph or Landry Jones were the backups when Neil O'Donnell or Mike Tomczak or Mark Malone were the starters, they would have been loved because they weren't O'Donnell or Tomczak or Malone. But since they're the backups to Ben Roethlisberger, they're hated because they're not Roethlisberger.

JAMES DIBERT FROM FAIRBORN, OH: Do you know who was selected for the Steelers Hall of Honor Class of 2020? I think the selections were scheduled to be made in May, but I haven't seen any information or updates.
ANSWER: The voting for the Hall of Honor's Class of 2020 took place in mid-June, and the results will be announced in late July or possibly early August, depending upon when NFL training camps officially open.