The 2012 NFL draft is almost here and every year about this time I like to go back through the Pittsburgh Steelers roster and identify the stone cold locks for the 53 man roster on both sides of the ball. This gives clarity to obvious draft needs as well as upcoming roster battles to start looking forward to. First up is the offense and below is the breakdown of the players I would bet my house on to make the 53 man roster baring some sort of injury or suspension. While you could make arguments for several others I do not have listed, I think you would have a hard time selling me that they are indeed roster locks.
Quarterbacks: (1) Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has publicly stated that it is possible that both Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch could be back next year, but as of early April both remain unsigned. The Steelers signed Troy Smith and Jerrod Johnson presumably to be OTA and camp arms, but neither are locks to make it to Latrobe, much less make the roster. Head coach Mike Tomlin had a very public dinner with Kirk Cousins the night before the Michigan State pro day, so it is not totally out of the question the Steelers could draft a young arm later this month. For now Roethlisberger is the only quarterback you can guarantee will be on the 53 man roster.
Wide Receivers: (3) Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders
The Steelers without a doubt want to bring back Jerricho Cotchery, but that has yet to take place. Although April 20th is still a couple of weeks away, Wallace looks certain to be retained with his first round tender and I would bet my house on it. Outside of the Young Money Crew the Steelers could use two or even three more receivers depending on how the numbers shake out. I could easily see them drafting at least one receiver later this month and two would not totally shock me. If Cotchery is not re-signed, I see another veteran free agent serving as the 4th receiver. Could Plaxico Burress be that guy? It is unlikely, but we can\’t rule it out.
Running Backs: (2) Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman
Mendenhall deserves an asterisk here as it is very likely he starts the season on the PUP list and will not be on the 53 man roster as a result. Redman is a lock, but behind him there figures to be training camp battles between Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch, Chad Spann and a draft pick. Will Todd Haley also use a fullback this year? We don\’t know for certain. Realistically we should expect four ruining backs on the 53 man roster and if Mendenhall does indeed start the season on PUP as I suspect he will, the Steelers have 3 roster spots behind Redman up for grabs. I am fairly certain one running back will be drafted later this month.
Tight Ends: (1) Heath Miller
Outside of Miller there are no roster locks in my opinion. Weslye Saunders will be on the suspended list to start the season and David Johnson is in no way considered a lock with Haley now running the show. Newly signed Will Johnson shows promise as a h-back, as does Jamie McCoy, but I would not be willing to say that anyone outside of Miller is a roster lock. Could we see a tight end drafted later this month at some point? I think the chances are good of that happening.
Centers: (1) Maurkice Pouncey
This is pretty cut and dry here with Pouncey and Doug Legursky will serve once again as his backup. There will likely be a few battles for a practice squad spot with John Malecki likely being the incumbent to land there once again as he tries to become the second coming of Legursky.
Guards: (2) Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster
Both Legursky and Foster are locks in my opinion to return on their one year tenders. Outside of them the Steelers will draft one guard for sure and they could decide to bring back Trai Essex for additional depth. I am willing to bet a guard is drafted in the first three rounds later this month. Chris Scott also could be an option, but judging by what we saw last preseason, it would take one hell of turnaround for him to make it.
Tackles: (2) Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon
Gilbert and Colon are no-brainers, but outside of that it is wide open. Even though Jonathan Scott will likely be on the roster come draft day, he is in no way considered a roster lock right now. I suspect a tackle will be drafted later this month and perhaps a low profile free agent signed as well. Trevis Turner has a chance to compete for a spot this year, but it will not just be given to him. Depending on how fast he recovers from knee surgery, Max Starks has to be considered an option for depth purposes, but I would say that week 1 might be cutting it close.
As you see from above there are only 11 true roster locks on offense as we sit here in early April with Mendenhall serving as the 12th depending on his injury status. That leaves question marks for 12-14 offensive roster spots moving forward and that is a big number. I suspect they will carry 9 offensive lineman coming out of training camp, so 4 line spots are up for grabs. 3 more spots at running back, 2 at tight end, 2 at wide receiver and 2 at quarterback. A good chunk of these should be settled on draft day with a few more being filled as a result of a few re-signings. By the time camp rolls around I suspect the open roster spots on offense will be cut in half.
Next up I will do the same exercise for the defense.