Pittsburgh Steelers: Tomlin showing why he’s one of the NFL’s best coaches

Tomlin.jpg
Tomlin” by Brook Ward is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

After beating the Cleveland Browns today, Mike Tomlin has his Pittsburgh Steelers sitting at 7-5. That 7-5 record is currently good enough for the Steelers to occupy the sixth spot in the AFC playoff picture.

Since becoming the head coach of the Steelers back in 2007, Tomlin has never finished a season with a losing record. Once again, Tomlin has his Steelers in position to finish with a winning record, needing just one more win this season to finish at least 8-8. If the Steelers do in fact finish this season with a winning record, it would mark the 13th straight season Tomlin’s Steelers have done so.

Although the Steelers are on track for their 13th straight winning season under Tomlin, this one has been a little different than most. To start off the season, the Steelers took a beating from the New England Patriots, losing 33-3. They then went on to lose their next two games to the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

By starting 0-3, the Pittsburgh Steelers had everyone thinking they were one of the worst teams in the NFL. It was fair to think so, as they lost starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season after their second game. More often than not, teams don’t do well when their starting quarterback goes down.

It certainly looked like the Steelers were doomed without their starting quarterback. With backup quarterback Mason Rudolph in, the Steelers got their first win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4, but they then went on to lose to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5, putting them at 1-4 through five weeks.

To make things even worse, Rudolph got hurt against the Ravens and was set to miss the next game, meaning the Steelers would have their third string quarterback in the game. Instead of refusing to quit and call the season a loss, Tomlin put together the perfect game plan for his third string quarterback, Devlin Hodges, to go in a beat the Los Angeles Chargers. It was with that win I knew the Steelers weren’t done just yet. The Chargers aren’t a great team this season, but how often do teams win games with their third string quarterbacks? Almost never.

Over the next three weeks, Tomlin led the Steelers to three straight wins over the Dolphins, Colts and Rams with Rudolph back in the lineup. However, he lost starting running back James Conner to injury for two of those games.

Then there was the first of two games between the Steelers and Browns. The Steelers lost this game, but it wasn’t just the game they lost. They also lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey for two games because of the fight that broke out in the final minute of the game.

After losing that game to the Browns, Tomlin has led the Steelers to two straight wins over the Bengals and Browns. Over these two games, things looked even worse for the Steelers going in. Against both the Bengals and Browns, the Steelers didn’t have starting wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Starting running back James Conner was also out for those two games after returning for their first game against the Browns.

Then there’s the fact that Rudolph was benched against the Bengals for his horrible play. They won that game because Tomlin decided to put third string quarterback Devlin Hodges in for the second half. Hodges started the game against the Browns today, which resulted in a win.

So here’s a quick recap of what Tomlin has been working with, or more like without, to this point in the season:

  • 10 games without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
  • Four games without starting running back James Conner
  • Two games without starting center Maurkice Pouncey
  • Two games without starting wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster
  • Two and a half games (benching) without backup quarterback Mason Rudolph

Tomlin has only had a full strength team in two games this season. Those were the first two games. Since then, Tomlin has had to deal with some sort of injury to a significant player every week, yet he’s led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a record of 7-3.

Regardless of if the Steelers end up making the playoffs or not, you have to admit that what Tomlin has been able to with this group of players is impressive.

I find it funny that just a season ago, there were rumors going around that Tomlin had lost control of the locker room. Many people wanted Tomlin out because of it. It’s pretty clear now that Tomlin never lost control of anything, he just had to deal with dramatic players such as Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell over the last couple of seasons, who did nothing but complain and be selfish regardless of results.

Remember, Tomlin is a Super Bowl winning coach. He’s also led the Steelers to a second Super Bowl appearance. It’s not every day a team has as many injuries to overcome as the Steelers have had this season, but it’s not every day you get a coach who can win with all those injuries either. If you don’t respect Tomlin already, start now, because he’s one of the best coaches in the NFL. Not many can do what he’s doing.

 

2019 NFL Predictions: AFC East

Now it’s time to look at the division that has probably made the most changes throughout the offseason. The Jets, Dolphins and Bills have all made several moves this offseason with one goal in mind. That’s to unseat the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots. 

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“Miami Dolphins Mario Williams – Buffalo Bills Mike Gillislee” by Jack Kurzenknabe is licensed for public domain.

In case you forgot, the New England Patriots won another Super Bowl this past February. It was probably one of the uglier Super Bowls in history. Nonetheless, that’s not the biggest thing everyone is talking about with the Patriots.

There’s been a lot of news on the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins lately too, but they’re going in opposite directions this season. I’ll explain that more in each section. I think all eyes are on the New York Jets and their newest RB Le’Veon Bell. They seem to be the top contenders to unseat the Patriots. Can they do it?

 

1. New England Patriots

 Last season’s record: 11-5 

Postseason Result: Won Super Bowl (13-3) against the Los Angeles Rams

Offseason Acquisitions:

Signed:

  • DE Michael Bennett (Philadelphia)
  • DE Mike Pennel and S Terrence Brooks (N.Y.  Jets)
  • TE Matt LaCosse and RT Jared Veldheer (Denver)
  • TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jacksonville)
  • TE Benjamin Watson (New Orleans)
  • WR Demaryius Thomas (Houston)
  • WR Cameron Meredith (New Orleans)

Drafted:

  • WR N’Keal Harry (32nd)
  • CB JoeJuan Williams (45th)
  • DE Chase Winovich (77th)
  • RB Damien Harris (87th)
  • QB Jarrett Stidham (133th)

Offseason Departures:

  • Retired TE Rob Gronkowski
  • DE Trey Flowers (Detroit)
  • OT Trent Brown (Oakland)
  • DT Malcom Brown (New Orleans)
  • WR Chris Hogan (Carolina)
  • DE Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta)
  • WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson (Chicago)
  • TE Dwayne Allen and CB Eric Rowe (Miami)

The Big Question:

When you win six Super Bowl titles in 19 years with the same QB-coach duo, there’s not much you need to question about your team. However, given three factors, the Patriots even have some questions. One factor is the age of QB Tom Brady and how much longer he’ll continue to play. Factor two is the injury to C David Andrews and the offensive line. The final factor is the retirement of TE Rob Gronkowski.

Despite all these factors, the Patriots will likely still finish atop the division and have one of the best records this year. I think they have plenty of offensive weapons, so they don’t need to worry about who to get the ball too, so let’s look for them to make another run at a Super Bowl.

Prediction: 12-4

 

2. Buffalo Bills

Last season’s record: 6-10

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions:

Signed:

  • C Mitch Morse (Kansas City)
  • WR John Brown (Baltimore)
  • WR Cole Beasley (Dallas)
  • TE Tyler Kroft (Cincinnati)
  • G Spencer Long and WR Andre Roberts (N.Y. Jets)
  • G Jon Feliciano (Oakland)
  • OT Ty Nsehke (Washington)
  • RB T.J. Yeldon (Jacksonville)
  • CB Kevin Johnson (Houston)
  • OT LaAdrian Waddle (New England)
  • RB Frank Gore (Miami)

Drafted:

  • DT Ed Oliver (9th)
  • OT Cody Ford (38th)
  • RB Devin Singletary (74th)
  • TE Dawson Knox (96th)
  • LB Voseasn Joseph (147th)
  • CB Jaquan Johnson (181th)

Offseason Departures:

  • RB LeSean McCoy (Kansas City)
  • G John Miller (Cincinnati)
  • TE Charles Clay (Arizona)
  • RT Jordan Mills (Miami)
  • TE Logan Thomas (Detroit)
  • RB Taiwan Jones (Houston)
  • RB Chris Ivory (Free Agent)

The Big Question:

This defense proved they’re worthy of being amongst the top in the league. This defense led the Bills to a Wild Card spot two years ago, despite their struggles on offense. The offense continued to struggle a lot last season as well. With a new QB in Josh Allen and an offensive line that could not protect, it was hard for Allen to get things going.

The Bills spent a lot of time this offseason trying to improve their offense. They drafted another OL in Cody Ford and signed a young RB to work with Allen. They also got two WRs who are proven veterans to help control the game on offense. With all these changes that have been made by the Bills, I really like Josh Allen’s chances to became an elite QB this year. He could likely help lead his team to a playoff spot again.

Prediction: 9-7

 

3. New York Jets

Last season’s record: 4-12

Postseason Result: N/A

Offseason Acquisitions: 

Signed:

  • RB Le’Veon Bell (Pittsburgh)
  • ILB C.J. Mosley and Ty Montgomery (Baltimore)
  • G Kelechi Osemele
  • WR Jamison Crowder (Washington)
  • C Ryan Kalil and K Chandler Catanzaro (Carolina)
  • WR Josh Bellamy (Chicago)
  • G Tom Compton and QB Trevor Siemian (Minnesota)
  • CB Brian Poole (Atlanta)
  • TE Ryan Griffin (Houston)

Drafted:

  • DT Quinnen Williams (3rd)
  • LB Jachai Polite (68th)
  • T Chuma Edoga (92nd)
  • TE Trevon Wesco (121th)
  • LB Blake Cashman (157th)
  • CB Blessuan Austin (196th)

Offseason Departures:

  • CB Morris Claiborne (Kansas City)
  • QB Josh McCown (Philadelphia)
  • WR Jermaine Kearse (Detroit)
  • G James Carpenter (Atlanta)
  • CB Buster Skrine (Chicago)
  • K Jason Myers (Seattle)
  • RB Isaiah Crowell (Oakland)
  • C/G Spencer Long and WR Andre Roberts (Buffalo)
  • DE Mike Pennel and S Terrence Brooks (New England)
  • TE Clive Walford (Miami)
  • OLB Jeremiah Attaochu (Kansas City)

The Big Question:

The Jets have improved themselves in a huge way at the RB position with Le’Veon Bell. We hope to see him help the young Jets offense win more games, but we also don’t really know what to except from Bell after he was sitting out a year due to his holdout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Will Bell be able to get himself back into the form he was with the Steelers in 2017? He’s the key to the success of the Jets’ offense. He came to New York for a new beginning, and he has the abilities to be the best RB in the league when he has his head straight.

Having a young QB and WRs like Sam Darnold, Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, the Jets could put up some solid offensive numbers. It’s the questionable play calls and defense that worries me about this team, but hopefully they get a few more wins than a season ago.

Prediction: 7-9

 

4. Miami Dolphins

Last season’s record: 7-9 

Postseason Result: N/A 

Offseason Acquisitions:

Signed:

  • QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tampa Bay)
  • TE Dwayne Allen and CB Eric Rowe (New England)
  • TE Clive Walford (N.Y. Jets)
  • QB Josh Rosen and DE Robert Nkemdiche (Arizona)
  • RT Jordan Mills (Buffalo)
  • WR Allen Hurns (Dallas)
  • G Chris Reed (Jacksonville)
  • WR Ricardo Louis (Cleveland)

Draft:

  • DT Christian Wilkins (13th)
  • G Michael Deiter (78th)
  • LB Andrew Van Ginkel (151th)
  • T Isaiah Prince (202th)
  • RB’s Chandler Cox (233) and Myles Gaskin (234)

Offseason Departures:

  • QB Ryan Tannehill and DE Cameron Wake (Tennessee)
  • OT Laremy Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills (Traded to Houston)
  • LB Kiko Alonso (Traded to New Orleans)
  • RT Ja’Wuan James (Denver)
  • RB Frank Gore (Buffalo)
  • WR Danny Amendola (Detroit)
  • DE Andre Branch (Arizona)
  • DE William Hayes and G Josh Sitton (Free Agent)
  • TE A.J. Derby and DT Sylvester Williams (New Orleans)

The Big Question:

Do I need say more… The Dolphins have traded away their best chance to win games this year. They went from having a nice looking offensive team, to a “let me hang out in South Beach for a year” team. The Dolphins traded QB Ryan Tannenhill away and got QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen in return. That doesn’t do anything if you don’t have anyone to protect or catch the ball. 

That’s why the offense is going to be one of worst in the NFL, despite having Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage in the backfield.  I can’t see much coming from the Dolphins offense. That’s why I have them as the worst team in the league. After trading OT Laremy Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills, my decision was made.

Prediction: 4-12

 

Predicted Division Standings

  1. New England Patriots (12-4)
  2. Buffalo Bills (9-7)
  3. New York Jets (7-9)
  4. Miami Dolphins (4-12)

Breaking down the best landing spot for Le’Veon Bell.

Le’Veon Bell will finally become a free agent! After watching their star RB sit out last season because of his contract, the Pittsburgh Steelers are moving on. Reports are that Bell will become a free agent after the Steelers say they won’t use any tags on him. Le’Veon Bell will soon be able to choose where he’d like to next play football.

Best landing spot for Le'Veon Bell
-Pittsburgh Steelers Le’Veon Bell” by Jack Kurzenknabe is licensed under Public Domain

As an RB who’s obviously demanding a lot of money, Bell’s options are somewhat limited on where he can go. Because of his high salary demand, many have cited the following list in reference to Bell’s name. Why? This list holds the names of the top 10 teams with the most cap space this offseason. Chances are, Le’Veon Bell’s next destination is somewhere on this list.

Just because these 10 teams have the most cap space, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best landing spot for Le’Veon Bell. Not only is Bell wanting a high salary, he’s likely looking for a place where he can dominate carries, and more importantly, win football games. That limits the options on the above list. We’re going to break down this top 10 list, ultimately coming up with the best landing spot for Le’Veon Bell.

 

Round 1: Winning (Potential)

Of the list of top 10 teams with the most cap space, how many teams can really offer Le’Veon Bell a winning situation? The Colts, Texans, Seahawks and Cowboys were all in the playoffs this past season, so they automatically make it on to the next round.

Just because a team wasn’t in the playoffs last season, it doesn’t mean they can’t offer a winning situation. The Cleveland Browns were much improved this past season, and will likely continue their upward trend after a string a great moves last offseason. They’re an intriguing option, so we’ll move them on to round 2. The Jets only won four games a season ago, but Sam Darnold showed why he’s the next franchise QB for the Jets. They should be much improved next season, and Bell could help them get there, so we’ll include them too.

If I’m including the Jets, I have to include the 49ers. They were also 4-12 last season, but that was without their starting QB for most of the year. With Garoppolo back and some good moves this offseason, they should be much more competitive next season.

That leaves us with the Bills, Raiders and Bengals. Does anyone want to play for the Bills? No. Raiders? Definitely no. Bengals? I don’t think so. These three get eliminated, while seven teams move on in their quest to be the best landing spot for Le’Veon Bell.

 

Round 2: Bulk of the carries 

We’ve got the Colts, Texans, Seahawks, Cowboys, Browns, Jets and 49ers left. Let’s get rid of some easy eliminations in this round. Which teams already have a featured RB?

  • Cowboys: Dallas has Ezekiel Elliott. I think Le’Veon Bell could fit in with this offense if used correctly, but he’s not going to want to share time with Zeke.
  • Browns: They’ve got a young RB in Nick Chubb. They also just signed RB Kareem Hunt. Not enough room for Bell in this backfield.
  • Texans: Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue make a pretty good combination. I don’t see room for Bell here.
  • Seahawks: Seattle has a 1,000 yard rusher in Chris Carson. They also have Mike Davis and Rashad Penny, who both ran for over 400 yards last season. Russell Wilson with Le’Veon Bell would be dangerous, but I don’t see it happening.

One could argue the Colts could be eliminated, but I’m not sure Marlon Mack is a true starting RB. I think he’s more of a really good backup. Four more teams have been eliminated, leaving us with the Colts, Jets and 49ers as the potential teams to be named the best landing spot for Le’Veon Bell.

 

Round 3: Best QB

The third and final round is too easy. The Colts have Andrew Luck, the Jets have Sam Darnold and the 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo. Going back to round 1, I gave the Jets and 49ers a pass because of their potential to win, but that heavily depends on how well Darnold processes and how well Garoppolo comes back from his injury.

If Le’Veon Bell wants to play with the best QB available, picking the Colts is the easy choice. An Andrew Luck and Le’Veon Bell combination would be lethal. Throw in T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron. Don’t forget about Marlon Mack being the backup RB. That’s quite the combination.

The Indianapolis Colts are the best landing spot for Le’Veon Bell. They can give him everything he wants. They’ve got the most money to spend, a place where he can dominate carries, one of the best QBs in the league, and a place where he can win football games and have a real chance at competing for a Super Bowl title.

It’s not my decision to make, but if I’m Le’Veon Bell, the Indianapolis Colts are the team I’m pushing to play for.

NFL Fantasy: Top 20 RBs + Sleepers

Ezekiel Elliott
Ezekiel Elliott” by Brook Ward is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

By RahimAli Merchant

If you haven’t read my previous article, NFL Fantasy: Top 15 QBs + Sleepers, you should because a lot of the players on this list will be greatly impacted by the performance of those quarterbacks, especially in the PPR standard leagues.

That first round pick you have had your eyes on all summer is right in front of you ready to run all over the gridiron. They may do so with carrying and receiving the ball. That’s why it’s important to make the right decision at running back.

I will share with you the top 20 running backs in fantasy football to help you make the right decision. Maybe I’ll even take some of my own advice this year. So let’s see where each running back ranks on the draft board.

  1. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
  2. Todd Gurley III, Rams
  3. David Johnson, Cardinals
  4. Alvin Kamara, Saints
  5. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
  6. Kareem Hunt, Chiefs
  7. Saqoun Barkley, Giants
  8. Dalvin Cook, Vikings
  9. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
  10. Melvin Gordon, Chargers
  11. Devonte Freeman, Falcons
  12. LeSean McCoy, Bills
  13. Christain McCaffrey, Panthers
  14. Jerick McKinnon, 49ers
  15. Jordan Howard, Bears
  16. Tevin Coleman, Falcons
  17. Alex Collins, Ravens
  18. Lamar Miller, Texans
  19. Derrick Henry, Titans
  20. Jay Ajayi, Eagles

Bell, Gurley, Johnson, Kamara and Hunt are clearly the front-runners in fantasy this year, especially in PPR formats. Look for all five of them to lead the way for their teams.

For Bell, Kamara, and Hunt, there is not as much pressure which allows them to freely run through the tackles off screenplays. Each of them will take the stress off of their quarterbacks, which is good for Hunt and his young QB Patrick Mahomes.

Gurley had the best offensive performance of his young career under Coach McVay and he will be expected to do much of the same as he takes the pressure of quarterback Jared Goff once again.

David Johnson will be returning from an injury that kept him out for all but 44 snaps last season. He will have to prove that he is healthy enough to be the top back we expect him to be, but only if the new coach and quarterback let him show what he’s got.

Elliott will have a huge workload with the Cowboys this year because of the departures of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Elliott may be used more on passing downs, which means more points in PPR leagues.

Barkley is coming into a situation where they will be looking to be the best team in their division. With a focused Eli Manning and healthy Odell Beckham Jr., Barkley will have one of the best performances as a rookie. I’m talking better than what we’ve seen in the past two seasons.

Cook and Fournette both started off having excellent rookie seasons. Cook got injured in week 4 and missed the rest of the season. Fournette was banged up the entire second half of the season. We could expect the both of them to bounce back and have great seasons again. Cook is already in position to shine with the rest of explosive Vikings offense. Fournette will continue to carry Blake Bortles and the Jaguars.

Gordon, Freeman, and McCoy were also very much involved in their offense. Gordon and Freeman split the carries with counterparts like Olivier and Coleman. McCoy is the leading back and the clear workhorse of the Bills. Gordon helped led his team to several wins, but being hurt down the stretch of the season cost him and the Chargers. Expect to see him come back stronger than ever. Freeman also dealt with concussions and missed games, which allowed the Falcons to give Tevin Coleman full control. Coleman is lower on the list because of the amount of carries he gets, but in a standard PPR league, Coleman is set for another great year in fantasy.

McCaffrey and McKinnon have shown us all why they are worthy of being in the top 20. With the both of them likely taking on bigger roles, their production will also be bigger. McCaffrey has turned into one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets, and for those in a PPR league, that’s where most of his points will come. McKinnon will join the Niners and their young core to build a better situation for him. He’ll use his speed and size to break through tackles and get a lot of points for fantasy owners.

Howard and Collins were two players that had an up and down season, but they were still able to have pretty productive numbers. In a PPR league, I wouldn’t be so high on them as much as I would with their back ups, who have better catching skills, but they are both major pieces in the success of the offense. Howard put up 200+ yards with two touchdowns in several games last year and then could barely get 100 yards. The inconsistency between these two platers is an issue, but at least the teams know how to use them. Plus not every week is going to be a favorable match up.

Miller is another one of those backs who dominated on a good or decent quarterback. Last year with Watson, he was one of the top running backs in the league. That was because Watson was able to find guys like Foreman and Fuller to help spread the field and leaving space for Miller to make cuts from end to end.

Henry looks to be taking over as the primary back in Tennessee with the recent retirement of DeMarco Murray. The Titans did add Dion Lewis to the team, but with the way Henry performed in the playoffs, it is clear he’s poised to be the top back.

Ajayi will be looking to recover from a subpar season after being traded from the Dolphins to Eagles mid season. He wasn’t really asked to do much as an Eagle with LeGarrette Blount being there, but now that Blount is gone, Ajayi will be the power back and could really benefit if they do have to start the season without Wentz.

Just in case those players are taken, here are five more sleepers to consider in the draft.

Top Sleepers:

  1. Kenyan Drake, Dolphins
  2. Derrius Guice, Redskins
  3. Ronald Jones Jr., Buccaneers
  4. Joe Mixon, Bengals
  5. Mark Ingram, Saints

Drake really started to make up ground once Ajayi was traded. Drake plans to use his speed and power to add to a lot of points in either format. Drake looks to help Tannenhill ease back into the games and get their team back on the winning side of things.

Guice and Jones are both rookies on a team full of injury prone running backs, which means their time starts now. As long as they play well enough, we could see them be at the top of the depth charts for many years to come. Guice looks to help Alex Smith have another surprising year, like Kareem Hunt did for him last year. Jones will be taking the pressure off of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston, especially on the passing side.

Mixon had a disappointing rookie season, but then again his whole team was disappointing. Jeremy Hill has moved on to New England, so now it’s down to Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Bernard has proven to be a pass catching back and a good flex or bye week replacement, but how will Mixon favor? He has dropped weight and out to prove that he could be the next Le’Veon Bell.

Ingram should be one of the top 10 running backs, but the suspension has moved him out of the top. That doesn’t mean we should be passing on him in any format. Though Kamara is the pass catching back, Ingram is the workhorse that will continue to get his touches in the red zone.

I hope this helps you make up your mind on which running backs you want to draft. I will be giving you a list of receivers and tight ends to focus on drafting as well. All you have to do is continue to support and read the articles as they get posted and don’t forget to have fun doing your fantasy draft. I know I’m getting a lot of different draft ideas and I’ll have to hope it works out.

Also don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @fourthquartersports!

Can the Steelers Survive Without Le’Veon Bell?

Le'Veon Bell
Game Day – Bell” by Brook Ward is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

By Joel Deering

This morning I woke up to a notification saying Steelers fans are ripping on Le’Veon Bell because he announced the release of his rap EP on Twitter. I opened the notification to see how bad these comments towards Le’Veon really were. Let’s just say they weren’t good. Most of the comments had to do with Le’Veon not being focused on football, not caring about his team, and how they don’t care about his stupid rap song. One person even went as far as saying they hope he tears his ACL.

There was one comment that really sparked my interest. Someone said they’re glad Le’Veon won’t be on the Steelers anymore and the Steelers will win a Super Bowl without him because of the depth they have at running back. This got me thinking, “Can the Steelers survive without Le’Veon Bell”?

The next thing I did was go to the Steelers depth chart. Behind Le’Veon Bell right now the Steelers have six running backs. I’ll be honest, I’ve only heard of two of those running backs (James Conner and Stevan Ridley), and I’m guessing that’s the case for most NFL fans too. The other running backs on the Steelers roster are Jaylen Samuels, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jarvion Franklin, and James Summers. The reason most fans haven’t heard of Samuels, Franklin and Summers is because Samuels was drafted this year in the fifth round, while Franklin and Summers are both undrafted players. The reason why Fitzgerald Toussaint isn’t well known is because he hasn’t done much in the NFL over his four year career.

With Samuels, Tousaaint, Franklin, and Summers at running back, I wouldn’t consider the Steelers Super Bowl worthy. That leaves them with James Conner and Stevan Ridley. Ridley is the more experience NFL player so we’ll start with him. In seven NFL seasons, Ridley has a total of 3,022 rushing yards, 23 rushing TD’s, and a 4.2 yards per rush average. He’s had one season where he rushed for over 1,000 yards, but that season came back in 2012, which was his second NFL season. Ridley hasn’t played in 16 games since that season, which has led to a decrease in rushing yards almost every season since then. The only season since then where he’s increased his rushing yards, was from 2016 to last season when he went from seven yards in 2016 to 108 yards last year. Because of his lack of availability and production, especially over the last few seasons, I’ll rule out Ridley as a running back who can step in for Le’Veon Bell.

That leaves us with James Conner. Conner is going into his second NFL season. In his rookie year, Conner played in 14 games, but only got 32 carries. He did a pretty good job of making the most of those carries, gaining 144 yards with a 4.5 yards per rush average. Conner didn’t score a touchdown in his rookie year. We’ve only had a very small sample size of Conner in the NFL so far, but that sample looks fairly promising. I’m not saying Conner will replace the production of Le’Veon Bell, but if any of these running backs is going to, Conner has the best chance in my opinion.

Without Le’Veon Bell, I can see a similar running game to what the Dallas Cowboys had last year without Ezekiel Elliott. It wasn’t a bad running game, but it wasn’t great. The Cowboys running back by committee approach led to an average running game without their star player. Without Le’Veon, I can see it being that way for the Steelers, and that’s okay. The Steelers don’t need an elite running game to compete. They have arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, along with a quarterback who’s still pretty good in Ben Roethlisberger. The running game needs to be at least decent for the Steelers to compete, which I think they can do with their current running backs not named Le’Veon Bell.

For Steelers fans worried about the team without Bell, I wouldn’t worry too much. While it’s true their other running backs won’t replace his production, they should still be able to produce a decent running game and help the Steelers stay competitive in the AFC.

NFL Players Need to Stop Holdouts and Respect Their Contracts

Julio Jones
Julio Jones” by Thomson20192 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Joel Deering

Several big name NFL players such as Julio Jones, Khalil Mack, and Aaron Donald are currently holding out because they want new contracts. This is a situation a lot of NFL teams have to face every year, most of the time with their star players. If I was an NFL owner I don’t think I could deal with players like this. It frustrates me every time I hear about a player holding out because they want a new contract.

Here’s what I don’t understand. When an NFL player signs a contract, let’s say a four year deal worth $40 million, that means they’re agreeing to play for that team every year for the next four years. I’m almost 100% certain players don’t sign a contract stating, “I will play for this team for four years and $40 million until the last year of my contract or until I want more money, and then I won’t play until you give me a contract extension worth more.” When an NFL player signs a contract they willingly chose to sign, there should be no tolerance of a holdout.

Part of the reason these guys want new contracts is because there are several guys at the same position who they’re better than, but they make less money than. For example, Julio Jones makes less money right now than Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, and Sammy Watkins. Julio Jones is far better than any of those guys, but guess what Julio? When you signed your last contract, the market wasn’t as high for receivers then! At the time Julio Jones signed his deal, he was the second highest paid receiver in the NFL, but since then the market has changed. Is it his fault the market changed for receivers? No, but it is his fault he signed his current deal saying he would play for the Falcons for five years worth $71.25 million.

Then we have players like Aaron Donald or Khalil Mack, who are playing on their rookie deals. They both knowingly signed deals that allowed their teams to pick up their fifth year options. I’m pretty sure the deals don’t say, “I can holdout and not play for you if you pick up my fifth year option.” If you didn’t want to have a fifth year option, don’t sign the contract saying the team can do that. I’m sure contracts are more complicated than I’m making them sound, but you get the point.

For players like Julio Jones, he needs to respect his contract and wait his turn for a new contract. If his play is still top notch when his current deal is up, guess who will likely be the highest paid receiver in the NFL? Julio Jones. Is $71.25 million really not enough money? For players like Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack, do they really think they’re teams aren’t going to pay them? These guys are the best in the NFL at their positions. Their teams aren’t letting them get away, but right now they’re still under contract.

Then we’ve got the franchise tag situation, which is a little bit different. If a player gets the franchise tag, they have to stay with that team for at least one more year, but the key thing here is if the player signs the deal or not. If they don’t sign the deal, then it makes sense to holdout because they want a long term contract after their old one has expired. If a player does sign the one year contract, but still holds out, then it bothers me. They knowingly signed a contract for one year saying they’d play for the team, but then they hold out anyway? No respect for the contract.

I’m just annoyed because to me it seems like contracts don’t mean anything anymore. As soon as another player at the same position makes more, it’s holdout time. These NFL players have no respect and no patience. Their time will come if they can wait, but it all has to be right now. In my opinion, there needs to be a greater consequence for holding out, but the NFL lets anyone who wants to holdout get away with it every time.

To Tag or Not To Tag?

Le'Veon Bell
Le’Veon Bell” by Brook Ward is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

NFL teams can now use the Franchise Tag on players. Each team can choose one player they want to keep, but for some teams it just isn’t worth it. To place the tag on a player, it’s a high price. The player who receives it gets a salary that is an average of what the top five players at the position make.

Teams have until March 6th to use the Franchise Tag on their best player. With that date coming up, let’s take a look at the top 25 free agents available and if their teams should use the tag on them. I haven’t included players like Jarvis Landry and Ezekiel Ansah on this list because they already have the tag placed on them. For these other teams the question is, to tag or not to tag?

1. Le’Veon Bell, RB Steelers: Tag

Bell is one of, if not the top RB in the NFL. Every team wants a RB like Bell, and the Steelers can’t let him get away. He’s still young and in his prime. His best years could be ahead of him. I know a lot of teams don’t like to pay RB’s these days, but Bell deserves to be paid. Without Bell, the Steelers would be a much worse team. They need to keep him.

2. Demarcus Lawrence, DE Cowboys: Tag

After 14.5 sacks last season, the Cowboys can’t afford to lose Lawrence. Pressure on opposing quarterbacks has been a weakness for the Cowboys defense for years, but last year it finally wasn’t. Dallas needs to build on that, not take a step back. Tag him and build around him.

3. Drew Brees, QB Saints: Not to tag

It’s my belief that Drew Brees will be a Saint no matter what. I don’t think the Saints need to tag Brees because he’s a Saint. I can’t imagine Brees going anywhere else and I think he wants to finish his career in New Orleans.

4. Andrew Norwell, G Panthers: Tag

Norwell will have a high price on him if he’s tagged, but it’s worth it. Carolina doesn’t have the best line, but Norwell is a bright spot. Norwell is an All-Pro Guard, and if Carolina wants to protect Cam and have an improved running game, they have to keep him around.

5. Kirk Cousins, QB Redskins: Not to tag

With Alex Smith in the fold, there’s no reason to tag Cousins. If I’m the Redskins, I’m done with him. He wouldn’t even be on my mind anymore. Their quarterback is Alex Smith now, not Cousins. Let him walk and get a massive contract from someone else.

6. Allen Robinson, WR Jaguars: Tag

Blake Bortles is sticking around and he needs weapons to throw to. Robinson has been a good weapon when he’s healthy. He’ll be back and hopefully return to form. The Jaguars have other players leaving in free-agency at WR, so they need to retain someone. Why not retain the best receiver?

7. Sammy Watkins, WR Rams: Not to tag

Sammy Watkins didn’t even have 600 receiving yards last season. That’s not tag worthy. He’s a good weapon when he’s on the field, but he has yet to prove that he can stay on the field and also be consistent. Watkins is still very young and will help a team if he’s healthy, but the Rams have bigger needs elsewhere.

8. Kyle Fuller, CB Bears: Tag

Kyle Fuller is a young corner who had a pretty good season. He was targeted a lot last season. His production with that many targets is something the Bears need to keep if they want to get better as a team. The price may be high for Fuller, but it’s worth it for them.

9. Malcolm Butler, CB Patriots: Not to tag

Malcolm Butler is no longer wanted here. If they didn’t want him to play in the Super Bowl, they probably still don’t want him. They’re definitely not going to pay him top CB money.

10. Dion Lewis, RB Patriots: Not to tag

I feel like the Patriots have at least one different running back every year. They rotate through running backs like crazy, and they actually get production out of all of them. Lewis is a good weapon, but he shouldn’t get the tag money. They’ll find someone else to replace him if he leaves.

11. Sheldon Richardson, DT Seahawks: Not to tag

Reports say the Seahawks are unlikely to tag Richardson. I do think he’s coming back to Seattle though. Richardson himself even said he expects to be back. They gave a good amount to get him and I don’t think they’re going to let him go. They’ll work out a long term deal with him rather than slapping the tag on him.

12. Jimmy Graham, TE Seahawks: Not to tag

Jimmy Graham’s production has declined. He’s no longer the elite TE he was a few years ago. He can still be productive, but his franchise tag price will be too high for the Seahawks to use it on him.

13. Trumaine Johnson, CB Rams: Not to tag

Trading for Marcus Peters makes Johnson a Not to tag. They have other free agents they need to take care of, and with a corner like Peters, they don’t need to pay Johnson top dollar to be a number one corner. They can use the tag somewhere else.

14. Lamarcus Joyner, S Rams: Tag

Out of all the players the Rams could use the tag on, I think it should be Joyner. He’s the most valuable to this team right now. Any team could use his skills. They don’t have anyone else at the safety position who can do what he does. Watkins contributed, but they could get the same production from someone else and now they have Peters as their top corner.

15. Case Keenum, QB Vikings: Not to tag

There have already been reports that Keenum won’t be getting the tag, and that’s the right move for the Vikings. Keenum played well last season, but he’s not a quarterback who deserves to be paid like a top QB.

16. Nate Solder, OT Patriots: Not to tag

This one is easy. The Patriots shouldn’t tag Solder simply because they can’t tag him. There’s something in his contract that prevents the Patriots from using it on him. Unless they can work out a deal, Solder hits free agency.

17. Bashaud Breeland, CB Redskins: Not to tag

Reports say the Redskins intend to let Breeland hit free agency. It makes sense when you consider he’s been benched a few times in games. He’s had some great games and then some really bad ones. They’re not going to give him Josh Norman kind of money.

18. Dontari Poe, DT Falcons: Not to tag

Atlanta wants Poe back, but not at the price the franchise tag would cost them. This makes it difficult for the Falcons to retain him because poe is likely to get offers from several teams. It may be better to let him hit free agency and try to work out a deal with him rather than paying a higher price with the tag.

19. Carlos Hyde, RB 49ers: Not to tag

Carlos Hyde can be really good, but he can also be really bad. He has a lot of injuries and can’t stay on the field. He’s not one of the top running backs in the league. Someone will pay Hyde a good chunk of money for his services, but I don’t think it’s going to be the 49ers. They’re going to be looking elsewhere.

20. Justin Pugh, G Giants: Not to tag

Pugh is a quality guard and one of the best available this offseason. He was dealing with some injuries last season, which wasn’t very good timing for him. He can be a valuable piece somewhere. He’ll be a starter, but he’s not someone who’s worth paying the tag money for.

21. AJ McCarron, QB Bengals: Not to tag
22. Kenny Vaccaro, S Saints: Not to tag
23. Zach Brown, LB Redskins:  Not to tag
24. Trey Burton, TE Eagles: Not to tag
25. Rashaan Melvin, CB Colts: Not to tag

I ranked 21 through 25 above, but I don’t think any of these guys are worth the tag. None of them are top players at their position, which makes it not worth it to me. McCarron has proven he’s capable, but he’s not a top QB. There’s also other reasons why McCarron won’t be tagged by the Bengals. Vaccaro has never lived up to his potential, Brown is not elite, Burton is emerging but not close to an elite TE, and Melvin played well last season, but he’s not a top CB. If I were to rank the rest of the free agents, they’d most likely all be categorized as not to tag.