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Steelers Daily Links: Najee Trains with NBA Star, Pickett on New Helmet



Steelers RB Najee Harris
December 30 2012: WR Plaxico Burress (80) takes a mment o celebrate his Touchdown catch during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA.

After two concussions in 2022, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett is embracing a new helmet designed to better protect quarterbacks. Pickett will wear a Vicis Zero2 Matrix, a helmet aimed at better protecting quarterbacks from suffering concussions when their heads strike the turf.

“I showed up and it was in my locker,” Pickett told Mark Kaboly of The Athletic,. “I told them, ‘Yes, I will try it. Throw it in there.’”

This will be Pickett’s third NFL helmet. He initially used the Riddell SpeedFlex, the same helmet he wore in college. He then switched to the Riddell Axiom. He’ll now be using the highest-rated helmet for non-linemen.

“They said that was the best one for quarterbacks, so I said, ‘Fine, give it to me,’” Pickett said.

RELATED: Kenny Pickett Embracing New Tech, Defensive Teammates in Elevating Film Study

🏈 ESPN: Former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who went on to have a seven-year career in the NFL, died Tuesday in an apparent drowning at a Florida beach, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. He was 35.

The sheriff’s office said first responders were called to a beach in Destin, Florida, around 2:12 p.m. local time, as a group of people swimming in the Gulf of Mexico near a sandbar struggled to make their way back to shore. One of the individuals, later identified as Mallett, was not breathing when he was pulled out of the water and was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

“It is with great sadness that we share the loss of Coach Ryan Mallett,” White Hall, the Arkansas school district where Mallett coached high school football, wrote in a post on its website. “Coach Mallett was a beloved coach and educator. We ask that you remember his family, team, students, fellow coaches, and the White Hall School District staff in your prayers.”

🏈 Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown said the National Arena League is a “corrupt league,” as the Fayetteville Mustangs have also been kicked out of the league for “funding issues.” Brown, who served as the Albany Empire’s majority owner, failed to make required dues payments on June 15, which resulted in the Empire getting the boot. Former Albany Empire players and coaches plan to former a class-action lawsuit against team owner Antonio Brown for non-payment of their final game checks, coach Moe Leggett told the Albany Times-Union.

🏈 The Steelers’ skill position players came in at No. 13 on ESPN rankings.

“After talking about touchdown regression back from lofty heights, let’s talk about a player who should see the math work in his favor. Diontae Johnson scored 20 touchdowns on 254 receptions across his first three seasons. In Year 4, though, he caught 86 passes and turned exactly zero of them into touchdowns. In his first three seasons, Johnson converted 47% of his end zone targets into scores. Last season, he went 0-for-10. Even allowing for the move from Ben Roethlisberger to Kenny Pickett, I strongly doubt he goes 0-for-the-end-zone again in 2023,” Bill Barnwell of ESPN wrote.

There’s another metric detailing Pickett and his receivers, though, that made me even more intrigued by what could happen for a Pittsburgh wideout this season. NFL Next Gen Stats uses a model to estimate a receiver’s chances of catching each pass thrown in his direction. As receivers get more opportunities, those expected catch rates tend to head toward a common ground. Thirty-four receivers ran 500 routes or more last season, and 33 of them had an expected catch rate between 55% and 72%.

“The significant outlier was George Pickens, whose expected catch rate was 51.4%. He responded by catching 61.9% of his passes. The list of players who have run 500 routes and posted a catch rate 10 percentage points better than expected in the Next Gen Stats era isn’t long: It’s Doug Baldwin, Stefon Diggs, Pierre Garcon, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyler Lockett and Michael Thomas, who did it three times. Baldwin and Lockett played with prime Russell Wilson, who had model-breaking accuracy on deep throws. Thomas was with Drew Brees, who set NFL accuracy records. Pickens was playing with a rookie.”

🏈 All-Pro Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson named T.J. Watt among the top-5 pass rushers that he’s faced in the NFL.

“I would say Myles [Garrett]. I’ll tell you, Maxx Crosby is a really good player. T.J. Watt. Those guys, man… Obviously, they’re skilled, but those players, they’re so smart. So, those three,” Johnson said on the The Richard Sherman Podcast. Micah [Parsons]. I had some really battles with Demarcus [Lawrence],” Johnson said. “I’ll tell you one guy who people don’t know. You could ask Trent [Williams], you could ask Tyron [Smith], Olivier Vernon might have been the hardest player for a lot of guys to block.”

Why was Vernon so difficult to block? “He’s just a weird built dude,” Johnson said. “He’s like 6-1, 6-2, wears like a size 17, 18 shoe. Just weird built, almost like you remember how Elvis Dumervil was so special. Because he was like 5-11, 6-foot, but he had 33, 34-inch arms. So as he got that leverage under you, he would just forklift you and do whatever he wanted to you.”

🏈 it appears that Najee Harris was training with Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard in Oregon. Both Harris and Lillard are Oakland natives.



🎂 Born on this day, June 28, 1934 in Sioux City, Iowa, Ray Lemek played four seasons for the Steelers in the 1960s. Originally a 19th-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins out of Notre Dame in 1956, Lemek started five seasons for the Redskins and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1961.

On March 24, 1962, the Steelers traded guard John Nisby for Lemek a player-for-player swap. Lemek had played mostly tackle for the Redskins, but was a four-year starter at guard for the Steelers. Lemek retired in 1966 at the age of 31. He worked for 3M in Boston and a Cleveland steel company after his football career before retiring to Maine in 1997. Lemek died on Sept. 17, 2005 at the age of 71.

🎥 Steel City Star took a look back at Will Blackwell’s 98-yard kick return for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers in Week 17 of the 2000 season. The Steelers defeated the Chargers, 34-21, at Qualcomm Stadium.

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