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Steelers sign Starks

October 05, 2011 By: Admin Category: Players

The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed one of their former players, Max Starks, to help fix their horrid offensive line.

Starks spent 7 years with the Steelers, and has experience playing both the right and left tackle positions.  Starks had started in 79 games for the Steelers before being cut before this year’s training camp.

Starks sustained a neck injury in 2010 that forced him to miss the second half of the season.  The injury also prevented him from working out.  So when Starks reported for training camp, he was out of shape, and weighed over 400 lbs.  The Steelers released him immediately, without even allowing him to try to work himself into shape during training camp.

Since that time, Starks has been working out, and has lost over 60 lbs.  He’s now closer to his listed weight of 345 lbs., but it’s unclear how good his cardio is.

I suppose the Steelers felt anything is better than what they’ve been getting from their offensive line.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had made calls to Tunch Ilkin, Jon Kolb, Craig Wolfley, or Larry Brown.  Any of them could probably do better than what the Steelers have been getting from their current offensive linemen.

Interestingly, the Steelers have not re-signed Flozell Adams.  Aside from Maurkice Pouncey, Adams was probably their most consistent offensive lineman last year.  The Steelers released Adams when Willie Colon returned from his injury because Adams wasn’t willing to take a pay cut to serve as a backup.  But the way the Steelers offensive line has been playing, Adams would be a welcome addition.

To make room for Starks, the Steelers waived Chris Scott.  Scott rarely makes it onto the field anyway, so that’s no great loss.

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Steelers lose Starks

November 10, 2010 By: Admin Category: Players


That was the sound heard coming from the Steelers coaches’ offices when they got the news that left tackle Max Starks was going to be lost for the season.

As if things weren’t already bad enough for the Steelers offensive line, they now lose their left tackle; possibly the most important position on the offensive line.

Steelers LT Max Starks

The Steelers are already without right tackle Willie Colon, who was injured this summer.  The Steelers had to sign Flozell (the human penalty) Adams to replace Colon.

During Monday Night’s game in Cincinnati, the Steelers offensive line was decimated with injuries.  Not only did Starks suffer a season-ending injury, but rookie center Maurkice Poucey missed some action with an injury (though he came back later in the game), as did left guard Chris Kemoeatu.

So if we go from left to right on the Steelers offensive line, Max Starks is now lost for the season.  Chris Kemoeatu is hurt and is questionable for Sunday.  Maurkice Pouncey should be ready to play on Sunday.  Trai Essex is hurt, and Doug Legursky has been playing in his stead.  And Willie Colon is out for the season, and Flozell Adams has been playing in his spot.  Is this offensive line cursed or what?

Starks suffered a disc injury in his neck that will require surgery.  He is expected to return for the 2011 season.

In an effort to replace Starks, the Steelers have activated rookie tackle Chris Scott from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.  Scott broke his foot this summer and has been inactive all season.


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Steelers training camp: Offensive line

August 24, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

August 25, 2009
By John DeWald

This is Part 9 in a series.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

Part 1:  Defensive linemen

Part 2:  Linebackers

Part 3:  Safeties

Part 4: Cornerbacks

Part 5: Quarterbacks

Part 6: Running backs

Part 7: Wide receivers

Part 8: Tight ends

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for - the offensive line.   Regardless of what Bruce Arians might think, the offensive line did not have a good year in 2008.  During the off-season, they lost their best (although often injured) lineman in Marvell Smith, as well as Kendall Simmons.  The incumbent starters entering training camp are (from left to right) Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig, Stapleton, and Colon.   Added to this are 9 other veterans, rookies, and practice squad players.  Last year the Steelers carried 9 linemen on the active roster and, in all likelihood, they will do the same this year.  So, we are looking at 14 players fighting for 9 spots on the 53-man roster.

Although the line is a much maligned unit, there is ample reason for hope.   Once the current line was in place, they steadily improved throughout the year.  Continuity is very important in line-play, so with an off-season and training camp under their belts, the Steelers obviously hope their play will continue to improve (otherwise they wouldn’t have spent so much money keeping them).  The Steelers would also like to see some of the young backups step up and push the starters.  Without further ado, here are the prospective linemen.

Max Starks - The starting left tackle was a bit of a joke at the start of last season when, as the transition player, he couldn’t even crack the starting lineup.  He more than proved his worth, however, when Marvell Smith went down with back problems.  Starks stepped in and played solid for the rest of the year.  This off-season the Steelers were so thin at tackle (all 4 tackles were either restricted or unrestricted free agents) that he was designated as the franchise player.  Most thought that this would actually act as an impediment to a long term contract since he was guaranteed $8 million for 2009 under the franchise tag.  In June, however, he signed a 4-year contract for $27 million, which is quite respectable for a starting left tackle.

Max Starks

Max Starks

Chris Kemoeatu - is a big, strong, nasty, mauling guard…with occasional temper issues.  He also commits far too many penalties and mental mistakes.  The saving grace is that he is young and this was his first year as a starter.  After signing him to a 5-year $20 million contract, the Steelers obviously hope his play improves.  This contract, however (unlike Kendall Simmons’ contract), had a modest $3.885 million signing bonus, so it offers an inexpensive “out” should Kemo fail to live up to expectations.

Justin Hartwig - is the old man of the group at 30.  He was signed as a free agent last year and was a noticeable upgrade over Sean Mahan.  Probably best known for the safety he committed during the Super Bowl, he actually had a very solid year.  If anything, the biggest knock against him is that he is not Webster, Dawson, or Hartings.  Over 30 years of excellence at the center position creates high expectations.

Darnell Stapleton - was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2008 draft.  He made the team last year as a backup center and proceeded to beat out Trai Essex for the right guard position after Simmons went down.  Stapleton played extremely well for an undrafted free agent just one year out of college.  Coming into camp he was set to compete with Essex and  Urbik.  Unfortunately for Darnell , he suffered a knee injury at the beginning of camp and had to undergo  arthroscopic surgery.  This will essentially keep him out of camp and he will likely lose his starting job as long as either Essex or Urbik prove competent.

Willie Colon - Willie “false start” Colon, the starting right tackle, did not have a very good year last year.  In fact many analysts feel he would make a better guard than tackle.  Even so, as a restricted free agent, he was offered a first round tender at roughly $2 Million.   This is relatively cheap for a starting tackle and, as Colon is still young, the Steelers obviously hope he will improve.  If he does improve, they can sign him long term.   If not, they can let him go or move him inside to guard at a lower cost.  So far in Camp, Zierlein and Arians have been raving about Colon - let’s hope that is an indication of his play and not simply an attempt to pump up his confidence.

Willie Colon

Willie Colon

Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig , Stapleton , and Colon are all locks to make the team.  That leaves 9 people fighting for the 4 remaining spots.

Trai Essex -  A 3rd round pick in 2005, he has been a top backup but has never shown enough to crack the starting roster.  Able to play tackle and guard, he was resigned this off-season to a 2 year deal for about $1 Mill/year - respectable for a guy who can backup multiple positions.  This year, with Stapleton out,  he has staked a strong claim to the starting right guard position and appears light years ahead of Urbik.  If he maintains his play throughout the pre-season he could keep the starting job even after Stapleton returns.  In any case, he seems to have a roster spot locked up.

Kraig Urbik - The guard out of Wisconsin was the Steelers’ first 3rd round pick in this year’s draft.  Urbik has the size and pedigree to be a dominant guard, but it appeared during camp that he is a bit over-matched right now.  He needs time to adjust to the speed of the NFL and, as a high 3rd round pick, the Steelers will likely give that to him.  Urbik may never see the field this year but I project that he will make the team.

Tony Hills - Selected by the Steelers in the 4th round in 2008, last year was essentially a red-shirt year for Hills.  This year he needs to show more to make the team.  Lucky for him the team is rather shallow at tackle.  As Steelers Today has reported, Hills did not start camp off very well.  His play, however, has steadily improved and he appeared to hold his own in the first pre-season game.  He is competing against Jason Capizzi and Jeremy Parquet for the last tackle spot.  I see it coming down between Hills and Capizzi, with Hills currently holding the edge.

Jason Capizzi - played at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is from Gibsonia, Pa.  He was originally signed by the Steelers as a rookie free agent in 2007. He has bounced around on the practice squad of a number of teams before being resigned by the Steelers last December (after Marvell went on IR). He has put in a lot of work in the off-season and is fighting Hills and Parquet for the last tackle spot.  As mentioned above, I believe Hills currently has the edge and Capizzi really needs to impress if he wants to overtake him.

Jeremy Parquet - A 7th round pick in 2005 by the KC Chiefs, Parquet spent time with the Rams before joining the Steelers in 2007.  He was promoted to the active roster in October of last year.  I don’t believe he is eligible for the practice squad anymore so he will probably be on the outside looking in when the cuts come in.

Ramon Foster - was signed this year as an undrafted free agent.   He was a 4 year starter for Tennessee at tackle but projects as a guard in the NFL.  The book on Foster is that he is BIG and could develop into a pounding  guard (or play right tackle in a pinch) but that his footwork is slow.  Foster has impressed during camp and has a decent shot to win the final roster spot.  If not, they will definitely try to sign him to the practice squad.

Doug Legursky - played center for Marshall in College and was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008.  He spent part of last year on the practice squad but was never added to the active roster.   He is competing against A.Q. Shipley, Alex Stepanovich, and Foster for the final backup center/guard spot.  As mentioned above, I believe Foster currently has the edge to make the active roster and Legursky’s fight is primarily against Shipley to make the practice squad.

A.Q. Shipley - The center out of Penn State was the Steelers’ first 7th round pick in this year’s draft.  Shipley is another early fan favorite due to his blue collar work ethic.  Heck, let’s just call him the NFL equivalent of “Rudy.”  His height and arm length are too short to play in the NFL…everyone has told him that but he keeps plugging away.  Unfortunately, I don’t see him making the active roster.  There is a good chance, however, that he will be signed to the practice squad.

A.Q. Shipley

A.Q. Shipley

Alex Stepanovich - A 4th round pick in 2004 by the Arizona Cardinals, he started 34 games in his 5 year career, most of them for Arizona during his first 3 years.   The past 2 years he has been a backup for the Bengals and the Falcons.  He was signed recently as insurance given the injuries to Hartwig and Stapleton.  On the positive side, he has far more NFL experience than Shipley, Legursky, and Foster put together.  On the negative side, there is a reason he hasn’t been able to stick with a team.  At the end of the day, he only makes the team if Hartwig and Stapleton are not healthy at the beginning of the season AND if neither Shipley nor Legursky are able to impress the coaching staff.

So in summary, I predict that Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig , Stapleton , Colon, Essex, and Urbik are in.  Hills and Foster appear to have the edge for the final two spots.  Capizzi, Shipley, and Legursky are fighting to make the practice squad and Stepanovich and Parquet are out.  Agree?  Disagree?  Your comments are welcome.

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The offense and the Steelers’ draft (part 1)

April 12, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

April 12, 2009
By Donald Starver

Special thanks to reader Keith, who suggested that I follow up the series “The 3-4 and the Steelers draft” with a similar series on the Steelers’ offense.  I don’t know if I will have enough time to finish this series before the draft, but I am going to give it a try.

I almost called this series “Arians’ offense and the Steelers’ draft”.  But after thinking about it, I realized that I couldn’t write a series with that title.  Using that title would imply that I actually understand Bruce Arians’ offense.  But the truth is that I don’t.

I’ve watched Bruce Arians’ work as Steelers 0ffensive coordinator for 2 years now, and I still am not quite sure what he is trying to do.  His offense is definitely not a traditional Steelers power running game.    The Steelers have struggled to get the tough yards, particularly on the ground.  The Steelers ranked in the bottom third of the league in rushing yards, so I’m not sure if they have much of a rushing attack, “power” or otherwise.

The Steelers’ don’t run a power passing attack.  Ben Roethlisberger ranked 14th in the league in passing yards, and had almost 2,000 fewer passing yards than league leader Drew Brees. 

They don’t run a classic West Coast offense.  In fact, I struggle to place Bruce Arians’ offense into any particular category.  The most accurate description that I can give it is probably the “gain as few yards as possible and then depend of the defense” offense.

To be fair, Bruce Arians’ offense did win the Super Bowl, so I guess I have no right to question him.  But still……

With that in mind, I plan to look at the offensive positions generically, rather than specifically in the context of the Steelers’ offense (since I don’t understand it).  I hope the readers won’t mind that approach.

I’ll start with the area of greatest need on the Steelers offense, the offensive line.  Specifically, I will start with the most important position on the offensive line; the offensive tackle.

To illustrate just how important offensive tackles are, we need look no further than the 2008 draft.  The first overall pick in 2008 was an offensive tackle, Jake Long.  In addition to Long, 7 other offensive tackles were taken in the first round; more than any other position.  Contrarily, no centers or guards were taken in the first round, nor were there any wide receivers selected.

Offensive tackles are usually the biggest linemen on the team.  They are also typically the most athletic.  Left tackles are valued more highly than right tackles, since most quarterbacks are right-handed, and many of the top pass rushers in the league (e.g. DeMarcus Ware, Joey Porter, James Harrison, etc.) play on the right side of the defense.  The left tackle must protect the quarterback’s blind side. 

Because of the greater importance of the position, left tackles are typically drafted earlier than right tackles, and they are paid significantly more.

Left tackles must have the speed and agility to handle speed rushers coming off the edge.  They must also have the strength and base to anchor against bull rushers. 

Contrarily, the right tackle doesn’t need to be quite as fast as the left tackle.  Instead, right tackles must have tremendous leg strength to get an effective push in the running game.  They need to be an “earth mover” who can successfully push back their defensive opponent.  Most running backs are right handed and prefer to run to the right side, so having a mauler in front of them is important to the success of the running game.

Long arms are considered a highly desirable trait for an offensive tackle.  This allows them to extend into defenders.  Extension is important for two reasons.  First, it allows them to get their hands on the defender from farther away, thus controlling the defender and preventing them from gaining momentum.  Secondly, long arms allow the offensive tackle to protect a wider area.  So an offensive tackle with short arms is going to be down-graded by scouts, regardless of how massive he may be.

Looking at this year’s draft class, there are a number of good offensive tackles available.  Most projection have at least 4 offensive tackles being taken in the first round.

Offensive Tackles:

Eugene Monroe (6’5″, 311 lbs.), Virginia.  Monroe is equally adept at run blocking and pass protection.  He uses excellent technique, and is extremely consistent.

Andre Smith (6’5″, 340 lbs.), Alabama.  A hugely talented player with great size.  In college, he was always a man among boys, so he didn’t develop great technique.  He will have to do so at the next level.  Smith’s decision making and mental attitude have raised some questions.

Jason Smith (6’4″, 305 lbs.), Baylor.  A converted tight end who probably won’t be ready to start on day one.  However, he has great athleticism, and should prove to be a good investment for a team that is willing to put in the development time.

Michael Oher (6’5″, 309 lbs.), Mississippi.  Probably the biggest risk among the top-rated offensive tackle.  He had 3 different position coaches in 4 years, and will need coaching at the next level.  He won the Outland Trophy in 2008.

Eben Britton (6’6″, 310 lbs.), Arizona.  Not a great athlete, and he can be beaten by edge rushers.  However, he is a scrappy player who has good size and solid technique.  He will get the job done, although he may not look good doing so. 

William Beatty (6’6″, 291 lbs.), Connecticut.  Outstanding athlete who has questionable toughness.  Doesn’t play with passion.  Didn’t play against the best talent.  May be taken in the first round, but it will be more due to potential than to actual performance. 

The Steelers’ can use an upgrade on both sides of the offensive line.  Willie Colon, in particular may be vulnerable to rookie competition.  He has the longest tenure at his position on the Steelers starting offensive line, yet he continues to fail to impress.  Max Starks played surprisingly well last year, but the Steelers still don’t seem to be convinced that he is their long-term solution at left tackle.

Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith, and Jason Smith will be long gone before the Steelers make their first pick.  However, it is likely that Eben Britton and/or William Beatty will be available when the Steelers select at #32.

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If I were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert (Part 6)

March 13, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

March 11, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note: This is the sixth installment in a series.  If you haven’t already read the earlier installments, please click the links below

Part 1,
Part 2,
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

In the last two installments in this series, I suggested that the Steelers’ first priority in the upcoming draft should be defensive line, and their second priority should be defensive backs.  Now I plan to discuss what I believe should be the Steelers’ third priority.

I don’t think it’s going to be a surprise to many of you when I say that the Steelers’ next priority should be……..(drum roll )…..the offensive line.

I know that many of you think that O-line should be priority #1, 2, and 3,  but I’ve already established why I don’t agree with that.  The one thing that I do need to clarify is that even though I prioritize offensive line as #3, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe the Steelers shouldn’t take an offensive lineman until their 3rd pick.  Team needs have to be balanced with the value of the players available.  For example, if Illinois CB Vontae Davis were still available at the 32nd pick (he won’t be), I’d definitely take him in the first round, despite saying that defensive line should be the Steelers’ first priority.  (Translation: I’m a “best player available” guy).

I don’t think it’s really necessary to remind anyone why the offensive line is a key priority for the Steelers.  Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked over 110 times during the past two years (including playoff games).  That’s just too many.

It is a common refrain in Pittsburgh to blame Ben for his own misery.  “Big Ben holds the ball too long”, we often hear.  I agree with that sentiment.  Big Ben DOES hold the ball too long.  But holding the ball too long didn’t cause 110 sacks.

Think back to the Philadelphia Eagles game this past season.  During that game, Roethlisberger was sacked 8 times, before finally leaving the game for good with an injury.  Those 8 sacks were NOT due to Big Ben holding the ball too long.  The offensive line played like a team of matadors.  Ben averaged about .04 nanoseconds between the time the ball was snapped, and the time he ended up on his back.

I don’t think I need to convince anyone that the offensive line was the Steelers’ achilles heel this season.  Instead, let’s look at each player and determine what issues need to be addressed.

LT Max Starks - Max Starks was the unheralded hero of the Steelers’ Super Bowl run.  When Marvel Smith went down, Starks stepped in and replaced him admirably.

Some Steelers fans can’t seem to forgive Starks for losing his RT position to Willie Colon in 2007, and then not being able to take it back from him in training camp in 2008.  Since Colon hadn’t played particularly well, that must mean that Starks was really bad.

Only the Steelers’ coaches know for sure why Starks didn’t win the RT position, but the reality is that Starks played adequately at left tackle when he got his chance.  He did struggle against speed rushers like DeMarcus Ware, but who doesn’t?

Starks is big and strong, and is rarely bull-rushed.  He needs to improve his lateral movement, but at only 27 years old, and with only 1 year under his belt as a starting left tackle, Starks still has upside.

LG Chris Kemoeatu - Kemo was a disappointment in his first year as a starter.  Kemo is bigger and stronger than Alan Faneca.  At 6’3″ and 344 lbs., Kemoeatu should be more effective in run blocking than Faneca was, even if he doesn’t have the speed to pull like Faneca.  However, that often didn’t prove to be the case.

But Kemo’s shortcomings are usually not physical.  It isn’t his speed or his strength that holds him back.  Kemo’s greatest shortcomings are mental.  Kemoeatu had been on the  Steelers’ roster for several years before being called upon to start, so he should have had a complete grasp of the Steelers’ blocking schemes.  Yet, Kemo often played like he didn’t know what was going on.

Kemoeatu is prone to far too many penalties.  He holds too often, and he seems to be called for being off-sides more often than any other player in the league.  If players were ranked by penalties, Kemoeatu would be All-Pro.

Fortunately, 2008 was Kemoeatu’s first year as a starter.  Now that he has a full year under his belt, things should come a little easier for him.  Being only 26 years old, his best years are still ahead of him.

C Justin Hartwig - After suffering through the Sean Mahan fiasco, Steelers fans greeted Hartwig like the French greeted Patton’s army.  He was a conquering hero before he ever stepped onto the field.

Some fans are quick to say that Hartwig gave up more sacks than any other center in the NFL.   That may be the case, but can any center really succeed or fail on his own?  Remember, Hartwig was surrounded by “off-sides Chris” Kemoeatu, and an undrafted free agent  (Darnell Stapleton) who wasn’t expected to play last season.

Hartwig will be 31 during the 2009 season.  He is the oldest of the Steelers’ starting offensive linemen, but he is far from over-the-hill.  In fact, he may have been their most consistent lineman last year.

Like most of the Steelers’ offensive linemen in 20o8, Hartwig was new to the unit.  Hartwig’s performance should improve as the Steelers’ line as a whole improves.

RG Darnell Stapleton - Stapleton was the biggest surprise of the bunch.  He was not expected to play, and he stepped in admirably when Kendall Simmons went down.

Stapleton is to be commended for stepping in and doing a good job as a surprise replacement.  I have nothing bad to say about his performance.  He exceeded my expectations.

I am, however, disappointed with Trai Essex.  I expected much more from him than I did Stapleton.  Yet despite all of the injuries to the Steelers’ offensive line, Essex wasn’t able to win a starting job, while Stapleton started in the Super Bowl.

RT Willie Colon - The only player in the NFL who could possibly dethrone Chris Kemoeatu as “king of the penalty” is Willie Colon.

Colon was the senior member of the Steelers offensive line last year.  He was the only returning starter from the 2007 offensive line.  His experience should have given him the strongest grasp of the Steelers’ offense.  Yet, Colon often looked like he had no idea what he was doing out there.  That is inexcusable.

Scouting reports have often noted that Colon is better suited to play guard than tackle.  Obviously, the Steelers’ coaches don’t agree, since Colon remains a tackle.

My hope is that Colon will continue to improve along with the rest of the Steelers’ offensive line.  However, the fact that he is still penalty-prone after 2 years as a starter is troubling.

If I were Kevin Colbert, I’d go into the draft looking for opportunities to upgrade the offensive line at every position.  The offensive line is unlike any other unit on the Steelers.  There is no offensive lineman who has made himself indispensable.

On defense, players like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu can feel very confident that their positions are secure.  On offense, Big Ben’s position is secure.  So are Hines Ward’s and Santonio Holmes’.  Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, and Mewelde Moore are secure.  Even special teamers Jeff Reed and Daniel Sepulveda are secure.  But is there a single offensive lineman that imparts that type of confidence?

Answer this question:  Are any of the Steelers’ offensive linemen among the best 10 in the league at their position?  My answer would be “no”.  In fact, I only think that we have one who is in the top half of the league at his position (I’ll leave it up to your imagination which one I’m talking about).  That’s a problem.  A big problem.

Kevin Colbert’s challenge with the offensive line is different than it is for other units on the Steelers.  With the defensive line, he has players who are still very good, but who are getting old.  He has to find replacements while the incumbents still have a year or two left in their tanks.

With the defensive backs, he has to add depth because the Steelers lost a starter, and they don’t have enough DB’s on the roster.

With the offensive line, the challenge is just as great, but less immediate.  The players are young, there is plenty of depth, and all of the starters are under contract.  Moreover, the players should get better as they get more experience.  However, as a whole, the players just aren’t as good as they are on other parts of the team.  The O-line can use an upgrade at every position.

Despite their shortcomings, the O-line was  good enough to win the Super Bowl.  That can’t be emphasized enough.  There aren’t many teams that look to make wholesale changes to a group that just won the Super Bowl.

I think most fans will agree on the Steelers needs.  What we  don’t all agree on is which need is most pressing.  One reader commented that he thinks it’s more important for the Steelers to replace players who are young and bad, rather than replacing players who are old and good.  Thus, he’d upgrade Willie Colon before finding Aaron Smith’s replacement.  I definitely see the logic in that line of thinking, even though I don’t agree with it.

If I were Kevin Colbert, I’d take all of these factors into consideration, and then select the best player available at our draft slot, regardless of position (with the exception of QB, TE, and K/P, which I wouldn’t draft no matter who was available).

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