Roster building is a unique process every time it happens. Every year presents a unique group of individuals that possesses different strengths and weaknesses, both individually and as broken down by position. As a result, we often see some funny things happen when it comes to the numbers game when assembling the 53-man roster.
The 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers entered the regular season with some uncharacteristic numbers themselves, some of which were modified during the season. Such statistical anomalies are less likely to be repeated than more conventional numbers.
You expect, for example, that a team will more likely than not carry three tight ends, or eight or nine linebackers for a 3-4 defense. But it’s not every year that you see a team, especially the Steelers, carry six wide receivers.
That is just what the team did last year, although late in the season they did release Justin Brown to get down to five, but they played most of the year with six wide receivers. But the Steelers are only returning four of those players, and have added one through the draft. It seems likely that we will only see five wide receivers on the 53-man roster this year.
The biggest oddball number, however, was the amount of defensive backs that they carried. They came out of the preseason carrying six cornerbacks and five safeties for 11 in the secondary in total, and they added a sixth safety during the season, leaving them with 12 for the remainder of the year.
The Steelers are a team that customarily will carry 10 defensive backs—usually a 6-4 split in favor of cornerbacks, or an even 5-5—but I think it’s safe to say that they probably won’t be carrying 12 again this year, barring unusual circumstances. Although they drafted three new defensive backs, for example, they also lost three through retirement and free agency.
Which are the positions that are most likely to benefit from these? It’s tricky to say, because at running back is a rare situation in which Le’Veon Bell will miss the first three games. There will be an extra running back on the roster during that time, but will he remain on the roster when Bell returns?
It seems as though tight end could be a position that benefits from a normalizing of position group numbers. With their top two players aging, the Steelers have two young draft picks from the past two seasons waiting in the wings to show what they can do, and I think we could see both of them carried on the 53-man roster this year.
As much as people may not want to hear it, I could also potentially see the Steelers carrying seven defensive linemen, including Cam Thomas and Clifton Geathers.
The most interesting spot to watch, however, will be linebacker, where the numbers are piling up. It seems likely that all of Terence Garvin, Howard Jones, Jordan Zumwalt, Shawn Lemon, Anthony Chickillo, and even Shayon Green are competing for—at best—two roster spots, and that would already bring them to an uncharacteristic 10.