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Analysis

Film: Derek Watt Brings Tenacity, Versatility to Steelers

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The Steelers have some more wattage in the building. They signed Derek Watt, brother of star outside linebacker T.J. Watt, to a three-year deal on Tuesday. It came as a shock, as the Steelers had vested interest already in the fullback position with Roosevelt Nix.

However, the Steelers are also reeling from the loss of special teams captain Tyler Matakevich, who led the NFL in special teams tackles. The signing of Watt not only corresponds with the emphasis president Art Rooney II placed on improving the running game but also upholding the special teams unit. Watt tied Matakevich for the lead league in special teams tackles and is an upgrade over Nix in that regard.

This is what you get with Watt. He is usually is a split-back on the punt coverage unit the Chargers had. The key with him on special teams was how sure of a tackler he is and how fast he gets the alley. Watt knows how to avoid blocks while flying down the field. He seems to always be in a position to make a tackle away from the traffic and towards the return man. On special teams, you really want to see the ball and then find the ball. Watt does that masterfully, as he does here to close quickly on the returner.

This is the same deal. Watt has a hot motor and flies from the backside of this return to come back and make this tackle, even after a good blocker on the edge to stop the all-out blitz that the Raiders sent. He finds the ball, goes straight to the ball carrier while avoiding traffic, and makes the tackle. This is great technical special teams play. Watt is going to add a lot to that unit at the very least.

However, then what about Watt’s ability to be a fullback? Can he actually block well and be an asset when being that lead blocker?

From the film, yes. Watt plays with intensity and is an absolute battering ram coming downhill towards defenders. His highlights as a blocker are nothing but fun as he clears alleys with ease. Something I have seen that has impressed is his mobility, as well. He moves extremely well for a fullback. The Chargers had him pulling and kicking out defensive ends.

This is one of those examples. Watt gets an absolute head of steam downhill as the puller and obliterates the defensive back coming into the alley to open this play up for Melvin Gordon. The mentality and tenacity Watt shows on this play to bully defenders in the open field is exactly why he is a great fit for the Steelers smash-mouth running style. It is fun to watch him do this consistently. He was a key cog in the Chargers running game when on the field and made a significant difference with blocks like this.

This run won the game for the Chargers in overtime and Watt blew this hole wide open as a lead blocker. Austin Ekeler is able to bounce this back all because Watt engages the linebacker and drives him out of the gap. He has impressive functional strength that allows him to drive guys right off their spot and open up these lanes for running backs. James Conner is going to love running behind a guy like Watt that can do this. With Conner’s ability to read and react to the second level of the defense, Watt can make a big difference.

One of the more intriguing parts of Watt’s game is his receiving ability. The Chargers did not use him a ton in that role, but his hands are soft and he can be used in this part of the offense. Like here, where shows off good hands and creates for himself by breaking a tackle and lowering his shoulder into a defender. He is a tone-setter even in the passing game. That is something the Steelers will always value. I think they could use him in the play-action game and get him out into the flats. Think of how the Patriots used James Develin and I think that is what we could see from Watt here. The bottom line is he can fill multiple roles and does them all well. Watt is a very solid signing and will contribute in multiple ways for the Steelers.

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2020 NFL Draft

Safety Options Abound for Steelers in Draft

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After a whirlwind week of free agency, it appears that the safety is becoming a far bigger need for the Steelers than anyone expected back in January.

The Steelers depth had always appeared to be sketchy, but it seemed likely a veteran free agent would be signed to shore up needs. Except, thus far, that has not happened. The Steelers retained Jordan Dangerfield and lost Sean Davis to free agency, leaving at least one spot in the secondary wide open heading into the draft.

The Steelers will almost certainly draft a safety, and they might go safety in the second round. It might even be possible that one of those very good safeties just so happens to fall down to the Steelers pick at 49.

There are players to take in each round that would at least be quality depth. We will only find out on draft day who the Steelers choose to pick, but here are SteelersNow’s top ten safeties in the 2020 NFL Draft.

10. Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame

Gilman is a lot of fun. His athleticism is lacking in some areas, especially his flexibility. Gilman is pretty tight-hipped and should not be playing as a deep safety in the NFL, but that is fine. He plays with his hair on fire and does a great job to read and react to routes and things going down in the box on the second level of the field.

Gilman will play as a box safety or dimebacker at the next level simply because of how good he is at avoiding traffic and playing downhill. He gives a team an impact run defender and tenacious player. Far more limited than a lot of players in this class, GIlman will have to be put into the right position to succeed. He lacks some ball skills, but still, Gilman is a solid chess piece.

9. Brandon Jones, Texas

Jones is another guy who will be a strong safety at the next level. His tackling is super reliable and he rarely misses on tape. He will not miss the chance to lay the boom down if he can and he can absolutely fly downhill too. Jones has impressive closing speed and is a great straight-line athlete. He does not have very smooth feet and will not flip his hips well, but he is physical and can man-up tight ends if needed. I like his instincts as well and he can make some plays undercutting routes. The issue is he is simply stuck in the box and that will depreciate his value.

8. Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne

A Division II guy that masqueraded as a single-high on tape because he was the most athletic guy out there. but really is more of a safety and linebacker hybrid. Like both mentioned above him, Dugger is going to be stuck as a box safety at the next level. He is a guy who has incredible length and is quite fluid for his size, so he can fall back in a Cover 2 scheme if need be, but he is at his best when he is reading and reacting and flying downhill. His ball skills are natural with great leaping ability and ball tracking ability. Dugger tracks the ball and high points with ease and good hands. He will be able to man guys up if he can improve his hip discipline and hand usage. He is just an incredibly raw prospect and the issue is he is already 24. There is upside here, but he is not a can’t miss prospect by any means.

7. K’Von Wallace, Clemson

Wallace is a really good football player. He knows how to key in on runs based off the offensive lineman and reads possible route combinations right off the jump. Once he is sure of what he sees, he absolutely flies to make the play. For the most part, he is a pretty good tackler too. The difference with Wallace and the others mentioned, though, is that he can be moved all over the field. He can be trusted in the box, manning up receivers, and he can be a blitzer from the box, too. Wallace is a playmaker. and would have more interceptions if he did not have spotty hands. There is a lot he can and was asked to do at Clemson. Wallace is just a rock-solid player that adds a lot of value to his game. He’s very smooth and a high energy player out there.

6. Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois

For a guy ranked sixth at his position, Chinn is a fantastic player who should be a really good football at the next level. Chinn has very good athleticism and in a lot of ways is similar to Isaiah Simmons. He will not drop back into a single-high role at all, but Chinn can fly and make impressive plays down near the line. This dude is a firecracker and will lay the boom with ferocity. His instincts and football IQ is pretty raw in general, However, he is a great tackler and has extremely good ball skills. Chinn can be a deep safety in a Cover 2 scheme due to his range, fluid hips, and ball skills. He plays better down in the box as a downhill guy, however. That is likely where he will thrive as a playmaker in the NFL and a solid player.

5. Grant Delpit, LSU

Delpit did not have a great 2019 season. Marred with missed tackles and gaffes in man coverage, Delpit fell down the board swiftly due to showing all those warts. However, he gets more flak than he deserves from a lot of people. He is still an extremely athletic safety with high football IQ. On top of that, the guy is an absolute ballhawk in the middle of the field and deep. He works so well on that back end of the defense with his range, instincts, and fluidity. If he were a good tackler and could man those guys up, Delpit would be a slam dunk for the top safety. He can still be a dynamic safety who will make a big difference at the next level regardless, but he just is not a perfect safety. Make no mistake, the guy is a Top-50 player in the draft no questions asked.

4. Terrell Burgess, Utah

Burgess is a hybrid cross between a safety and nickel cornerback. As a third safety, he fits in so well. He is sticky in man coverage and has elite awareness in the deep half of the field. His zone coverage instincts are really impressive when you watch how he reads the quarterback. Burgess will fly downhill and has really good closing speed and burst. This is not just a head smart player, but an athletic one at that too. Give him a man coverage responsibility and Burgess delivers. He has great fluidity and discipline to just mirror guys. Burgess is a pretty sure tackler as well. The big question marks will be is can he translate his playmaker traits into ball production and will his lack of length hurt him more in the NFL than it did in college. Those will have to be questions he answers, but he is a solid prospect.

3. Ashtyn Davis, Cal

Davis is a legitimate track star athlete and as such, has really solid range. The guy plays at a million miles per hour and is walking missile on the football field. He has laid guys out with big, legal hits on the field. Add all that in with ball skills and Davis is a really fun prospect to watch play on tape. He was reading Justin Herbert like a book when they played and made numerous plays from that single-high alignment. Davis can also walk down and man guys up from the slot too. His instincts are rather good as well. He could be a more consistent form tackler, but with the upside he has to his game, that can be forgiven.

2. Xavier McKinney, Alabama

McKinney is a walking chess piece. He has played in the box, at slot cornerback, as a sub-package linebacker, and as a single-high safety as well. Nick Saban put all the chips onto this young man’s plate and gave him the whirl at it. Similar to Minkah Fitzpatrick, McKinney’s versatility is a massive asset. McKinney took up Saban’s task with flying colors and is one of the best communicators and instinctual safeties in the class. He is one of those guys that has a knack for finding the football. That counts for in the air, too, as McKinney as very good ball skills. The consistency in his tackling ability is great and he wraps up with ease. He can essentially do it all and be a solid player at the next level.

1. Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota

There is so much Winfield can do and he does it all well. His ability to man guys up, even at his smaller stature is really impressive. Winfield has great fluidity and balance in and out of transitions that allow him to stay in phase and blanket receivers. Add in the fact that he has great ball skills and even against bigger tight ends, Winfield is a guy who holds his own. His football IQ has improved dramatically and he recognizes things out of the corner of his eye and makes plays outside of the defensive structure. He can play the box or be a deep field safety, but Winfield is a ton of fun to watch. Winfield brings great value to the field and will be a very good safety in the NFL due to his skillset.

 

 

 

 

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Analysis

What to Expect from a 38-Year-Old Starting Quarterback

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On March 2nd, Ben Roethlisberger turned 38. When the NFL season starts in September, Ben will be 38 years old and entering his 17th year as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even at this age, Ben is reaching rarefied air. Since 1969, there have been only 54 quarterbacks that played into their age 38 season. Of those 54, 46 of them started a game and just 22 finished the season with starts in more than half the games that season.

Discounting the fact that Roethlisberger is recovering from elbow surgery, what can we expect from a 38-year-old quarterback? Surprisingly, the answer is plenty.

From 1969-1999 quarterbacks playing in their age 38 season on average threw for 2,665 yards with 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Not gaudy numbers, but some of that has to do with the eras in which these quarterbacks played. Even more encouraging, they had a 63% winning percentage.

From 1969-1999, five Hall of Fame quarterbacks played to age 38. Some experienced more success than others.

In 1978 Fran Tarkenton threw for 25 touchdowns and over 3,400 yards but tossed up 32 interceptions and went 8-7-1 on the season. In 1983, Ken Stabler went 7-7 at age 38, but threw 18 interceptions against only 9 touchdowns and fewer than 2,000 yards. Warren Moon went 9-6 in 1994, but had more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18). In 1999, Dan Marino went 5-6 at age 38, throwing 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.

On the positive side, all-time great Joe Montana had 3,283 yards through the air and a 2:1 TD to INT ratio (18-9) with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and John Elway won a Super Bowl in his age 38 season. Elway may have been relying on Terrell Davis at that time, but still put up nearly 3,000 yards along with 22 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

As sports science and training regimes have improved, it’s become more commonplace to find quarterbacks 38 and older still having success, or even dominating in the league.

In 2007, Brett Favre at 38 threw for over 4,000 yards and added 28 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions as the Packers went 13-3. Kurt Warner a year after his Super Bowl loss to the Steelers still had plenty in the tank at 38. The veteran quarterback started 15 games, going 10-5 with 3,753 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 picks. Even journeyman Josh McCown put up 18 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions and 2,900 yards in his age 38 season.

As far as Roethlisberger’s direct contemporaries, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees all put together superlative performances at age 38.

Peyton Manning, 4,727 yards, 39 TD, 15 INT (12-4)
Tom Brady, 4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT (12-4)
Drew Brees, 4,334 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT (11-5)

However, depending on how you view Roethlisberger, a closer proxy may be former Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers’ age 38 season was statistically one of his worst as the team went 5-11. Rivers threw for 4,600 yards but threw nearly as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (23).

What will Roethlisberger be like when he comes back? If history offers any clues, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a highly effective player on his return. Quarterbacks at his level in this era– i.e. future Hall of Famers–have historically had success at age 38 and beyond.

It’s impossible to predict when a player will “lose it”. But as long as his elbow is healed and there’s not a significant loss of arm strength, there’s no reason to think that Roethlisberger won’t be able to return to his per-injury, high-level of play.

NFL Quarterbacks at age 38, >7 starts, since 2000

PlayerYearAgeTmGGSCmpAttCmp%YdsTDIntPick6TD%Int%RateSkYdsSk%Y/AAY/AANY/AY/GWLT4QCGWD
Vinny Testaverde200138NYJ161626044158.962752151413.43.1775.3181223.90%6.245.495.01172106055
Rich Gannon200338OAK7712522555.561274642.71.7873.517907.00%5.665.44.6418225012
Brad Johnson200638MIN151427043961.5275091532.13.4272292006.20%6.265.144.39183.368023
Brett Favre200738GNB161635653566.544155281515.22.895.715932.70%7.777.557.18259.7133024
Jeff Garcia200838TAM121124437664.89271212613.21.690.2231005.80%7.217.136.4722665013
Kurt Warner200938ARI151533951366.083753261425.12.7393.2241724.50%7.327.16.46250.2105012
Kerry Collins201038TEN10716027857.551823148152.8882.213914.50%6.566.275.68182.325011
Jon Kitna201038DAL10920931865.7223651612353.7788.9211006.20%7.446.756.03236.545012
Peyton Manning201438DEN161639559766.164727391516.52.51101.5171182.80%7.928.097.68295.4124011
Tom Brady201538NWE161640262464.42477036725.81.12102.2382255.70%7.648.297.48298.1124022
Carson Palmer201738ARI7716426761.4219789713.42.6284.4221507.60%7.416.95.86282.634022
Josh McCown201738NYJ131326739767.2529261894.52.2794.5392648.90%7.377.266225.158012
Drew Brees201738NOR161638653672.01433423814.31.49103.9201453.60%8.098.277.71270.9115022
Philip Rivers201938LAC161639059165.994615232013.93.3888.5342225.40%7.817.066.32288.4511012

All data from Pro Football Reference

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Analysis

Who Fits the Mold of a Steelers RB in the 2020 NFL Draft?

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The Steelers are in a unique position this year with a plethora of needs based on depth. In terms of actual day one impact, is there really a position that will bring a ton of that? Sure, rotational pass rusher, a third safety, a new tight end, and even offensive line help. But one of the key arguments of the running back contingent group has been that day one impact.

The Steelers were clearly doing their work snuffing around the combine as they met with Cam Akers, Jonathan Taylor, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, JK Dobbins, and AJ Dillon. But just what do they look for in their running backs and who fits the mold in this draft?

In this study, I have realized that there are two types of Steelers running backs. There are the speed backs and then the workhorse back. The Steelers currently have a few workhorse back types in Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, and James Conner, while having the speed back archetype in Kerrith Whyte. Let us start out with the workhorse type of back. Over Mike Tomlin’s tenure, here are the running backs selected that fit the workhorse archetype.

Steelers Workhorse Back Archetype

Benny Snell

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 224
40: 4.66
Vertical: 29 1/2
Broad: 9’10”
Bench: 16 reps
3 Cone: 7.07
Short Shuttle: 4.33

Jaylen Samuels

Height: 5’11
Weight: 225
40: 4.54
Vertical: 34 1/2
Broad: 10’1″
Bench: 18 reps
3 Cone: 6.93
Short Shuttle: 4.28

James Conner

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 233
40: 4.65
Vertical: 29″
Broad: 9’5″
Bench: 20 reps

Le’Veon Bell

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 230
40: 4.6
Vertical: 31 1/2
Broad: 9’10”
Bench: 25 reps
3 Cone: 6.75
Short Shuttle: 4.24

Jonathan Dwyer

Height: 5’11”
Weight: 229
40: 4.68
Vertical: 33″
Broad: 8’11”
Bench: 15 reps
3 Cone: 7.56
Short Shuttle: 4.67

Baron Batch

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 207
40: 4.5
Vertical: 39″
Broad: 10’6″
Bench: 24 reps

Rashard Mendenhall

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 225
40: 4.45
Vertical: 33.5″
Broad: 9’9″
Bench: 26 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.18

Here are the corresponding thresholds I have created with the data. There is one outlier for each of the data sets aside from the bench press, where all met the requirements.

Height: 5’10″+
Weight: 224+
40: Sub 4.66
Vertical: 29″+
Broad: 9’5″+
Bench: 15 reps+

Now, here are the guys who check every single box set forth here:

Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor
TCU RB Sewo Olonilua
Boston College RB AJ Dillon

Correspondingly, here are guys who only missed the cut by one measurable, with that measurable being weight for every single one of them:

Florida State RB Cam Akers
Maryland RB Javon Leake
Memphis RB Patrick Taylor
Florida RB La’Mical Perine
Georgia RB Brian Herrien
UCLA RB Joshua Kelley
Vanderbilt RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn

The Steelers have met with Taylor, Dillon, and Akers, so they are running the mold right on schedule in terms of showing interest in certain running backs.

However, as for the second mold, the Steelers speed back, there an entire difference of prerequisites, but all the speed backs of the Mike Tomlin era here are listed below:

Steelers Speed Back Archetype

Kerrith Whyte

Height: 5’10”
Weight: 197
40: 4.37
Vertical: 42″
Broad: 11″
Bench: 21 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.37
3 Cone: 7.2

Tony Brooks-James

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 190
40: 4.45
Vertical: 35.5
Broad: 10’7″
Bench: 15 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.27
3 Cone: 7.06

Dri Archer

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 173
40: 4.26
Vertical: 38″
Broad: 10’2″
Bench: 20 reps
Short Shuttle: 4.06
3 Cone: 6.86

Chris Rainey

Height: 5’8″
Weight: 180
40: 4.45
Vertical: 36″
Broad: 10″
Bench: 16 reps
Short Shuttle: 3.93
3 Cone: 6.5

Here are the thresholds needed to qualify for a Steelers speed back:

Height: 5’8″+
Weight: 173+
40: Sub 4.45
Vertical: 35 1/2″+
Broad: 10″+
Bench: 15 reps+
Short Shuttle: Sub 4.37
3 Cone: Sub 7.2

In addition, all of these guys had return experience, so that is another requirement.

Here are the guys who check the boxes:

Appalachian State RB Darrynton Evans
Memphis RB Antonio Gibson
Lousiana Lafeyette RB Raymond Calais

All of these guys hit the nail on the head for requirements. Gibson would likely be taken with the 3rd round compensatory pick while Evans and Calais would going into the later rounds if the Steelers were looking down this route.

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