We’re cutting it close here with training camp set to start later today—or at least the check-in and run test portion of training camp, which is fairly anticlimactic, but as Dave and Alex did over the course of the previous two days, I’ve also decided to take a stab at predicting the 53-man roster before we crack open the nut that is training camp.
As always, I want to stress that this is a prediction, meaning that I am projecting what I believe will happen, and not what I want to happen or would do if the decisions were mine to make. Until new information is gathered,
Quarterback (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
Analysis: The weight of history is too strong here. Jones may not progress much this preseason, but it probably still won’t be bad enough to get the Steelers to carry just three quarterbacks. I would be pleasantly surprised if that changes. Although I would probably be even more pleasantly surprised if Jones actually earns his spot.
Running backs (3) – DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer, Josh Harris
Analysis: I don’t see the two rookie undrafted backs beating out Harris, who has the talent to potentially contribute. He has also reportedly been involved in kick returns as the up man, increasing his value.
Fullback (1) – Will Johnson
Analysis: There really is no meaningful competition, and his contributions as a tight end are equally important.
Wide Receiver (5) – Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey
Analysis: First four are locks, Heyward-Bey is pretty close to it. I think it’s more likely that the Steelers carry six wide receivers than that another wide receiver beats out Heyward-Bey.
Tight End (3) – Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James
Analysis: The fifth-round rookie draft pick wins the tight end gauntlet. Even if another ended up being better, James would have the most difficult time sneaking onto the practice squad for all draft picks selected in the fifth round and beyond. Another tight end can go on the squad.
Tackle (4) – Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Alejandro Villanueva
Analysis: There’s no way any tackle is going to beat out Adams for the sole swing position in the coaches’ eyes, but I think after seasoning Villanueva up for a year on the practice squad, if he shows much of anything, they won’t want to let him go.
Guard (3) – Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Miles Dieffenbach
Analysis: They will, however, let Chris Hubbard go, as rookie Dieffenbach edges out the competition along the interior OL, where he appears to have receives the most second-team work within the group.
Center (2) – Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace
Analysis: Not much to say here.
Defensive End (4) – Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Clifton Geathers, L.T. Walton
Analysis: Cam Thomas loses the rotational end spot to Geathers and his salary becomes too much to justify, opening the doors for the rookie Walton, who seems to fit the profile of a hybrid front option. He could be a good Cam Thomas.
Nose Tackle (2) – Steve McLendon, Daniel McCullers
Analysis: Again, not much to say here, although I would see Walton becoming that necessary third player capable of taking nose tackle reps if necessary, which is what Thomas would be should he manage to make the roster.
Outside Linebacker (5) – Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Howard Jones
Analysis: The surprise here is less that the Steelers carry five outside linebackers (they have eight in camp), but that the fifth spot comes at the expense of a deep inside linebacker group. Howard Jones showed a nose for the ball on special teams in the preseason last year, which caught the attention of his coaches. I believe he rounds out his game, and combined with special teams ability and the dire need for pass rush, it’s the outside linebacker that is the squeaky wheel this year, much to the chagrin of Terence Garvin.
Inside Linebacker (4) – Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, Vince Williams
Analysis: Already pretty much covered above. In actuality, Garvin loses his spot via a combination of Jones and Ventrone.
Cornerback (6) – William Gay, Cortez Allen, Antwon Blake, Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, B.W. Webb
Analysis: There are only seven cornerbacks, so this isn’t too hard. Top six on the totem pole until something changes.
Safety (5) – Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone
Analysis: The Steelers carried five last year, and eventually six, so I figure they carry at least five in the regular season again. Ventrone gets the nod because Gerod Holliman doesn’t show enough to make the roster or to be particularly concerned about losing him off the practice squad.
Kicker (1) – Shaun Suisham
Analysis: There is literally no competition for his spot.
Punter (1) – Brad Wing
Analysis: Wing proves to be the more consistent of the two Aussie punters to keep his job, which is a slightly scary thought.
Long Snapper (1) – Greg Warren
Analysis: Again, another spot where there is literally no competitor.
Reserve/Suspended (1) – Le’Veon Bell
Analysis: He is suspended, after all.
Practice Squad (10) – Ross Scheuerman, C.J. Goodwin, Eli Rogers, Cameron Clear, Chris Hubbard, Terence Garvin, Gerod Holliman, Anthony Chickillo, Matt Conrath
Analysis: First, a point of clarification. Under the new rules, in addition to allowing the practice squad to consist of 10 players, teams are also allowed to keep up to two players who have accrued up to two seasons of free agency credit, meaning that third-year players can go on the practice squad.
This is why Garvin is able to go on the practice squad. Didn’t think I would get rid of him entirely, did you? Scheuerman gets the nod until Bell returns from suspension. The Steelers are bound to keep two wide receivers, and these two seem the most likely at the moment, barring something impressive from one of those slash bodies.
I am awarding the edge to Clear for now because Rob Blanchflower has been unable to stay healthy. I’m also giving Hubbard the benefit of the doubt that he doesn’t lose out to multiple undrafted rookies after having had two years of experience in the NFL. Conrath is the defensive line representative, while Holliman and Chickillo are draft picks who show enough to keep around, but not enough to do so at deep positions on the 53-man roster.