Here’s my final stock report from Steelers training camp, with a list of players who helped themselves the most, those who may have seen their stock drop with subpar performances, and others who may have left themselves in limbo with up-and-down showings at camp.
1. RB Jawon Chisholm
Chisholm hasn’t had any awe-inspiring preseason runs so far, but he’s a guy with underrated vision who can consistently get what is blocked for him. The Akron back has a versatile skill set with soft hands and fluid routes out of the backfield or even from the slot. He can run through arm tackles and has good straight-line quickness to make one cut and get upfield. Chisholm doesn’t have noticeable wiggle or elusiveness in the open field, but with Cameron Stingily’s season over and Josh Harris currently injured, the running back should receive the lion’s share of carries the rest of the preseason. That’s a big opportunity to lock up a practice squad spot for the time being at least.
2. WR Tyler Murphy
Quarterback Tyler Murphy had very little shot at a roster spot, but wide receiver Tyler Murphy may have done enough to grab a practice squad job. Murphy doesn’t have any elite traits, but has shown solid receiving skills in team sessions since the team moved him to a full-time pass catching role. He definitely won’t be on the 53-man roster, but his versatility may make him an attractive practice squad/scout team participant.
3. OT Alejandro Villanueva
Villanueva hasn’t been perfect this preseason, and last Sunday showed that he still has a lot to learn at the offensive tackle position, but I think he’s done enough to earn consideration for a spot on the 53-man roster. At the very least he’ll be a practice squad member, as his quick feet and towering frame make him an ideal developmental prospect. Villanueva generally uses his length well and has doubled over less as camp has gone on, but will still be a waist-bender at times and needs to get consistent in his punch placement. If Mike Adams starts the year on the Reserve/P.U.P. list however, Villanueva is a lock for the final roster.
4. DL Cam Thomas
Thomas was a lock to make the final roster when Clifton Geathers went down with an injury in training camp, but it wasn’t just another man’s misfortune that paved the way for the sixth-year pro to be a contributor off the bench for Pittsburgh this year. Thomas showed a much-improved burst off the snap, consistently playing with leverage and power at the point of attack. He was disruptive and aggressive in preseason action, albeit more so at nose tackle than at defensive end. The former is his better position by far, but unfortunately Thomas is more likely to see the field as a five technique than on the interior. Still a good camp by the veteran defensive lineman, whose job appeared to be on the line a month ago.
5. DE L.T. Walton
I was high on Walton heading into camp, figuring he’d lock up a practice squad while flashing at times and being overwhelmed at others. Even with that positive outlook I may have underestimated him still, as Walton has shown great burst and awareness, as well as the athleticism to even drop into coverage at times. He works hard every snap, but needs to get better at using his hands to defeat blocks quickly. With Geathers injury and most of the other defensive end candidates having a quiet camp, Walton could have done enough to lock up the #6 defensive lineman spot on the 53-man roster.
6. OLB Anthony Chickillo
You all know I wasn’t crazy about the Chickillo pick, especially when I heard the team wanted to move him to outside linebacker. I’m deeply engrained in the NFL Draft world, and I never heard that idea tossed around by anyone pre-draft. Who takes a 3/4 technique without any elite qualities or pass-rushing prowess and tries to turn them into a standup edge rusher? A team who believes Chickillo can drop 35 pounds and not lose his power at the line of scrimmage apparently, as the outside linebacker has looked like a totally different player with his decreased weight and increased explosiveness. That first step is still becoming consistent, but Chickillo has the tenacity, motor, and technique to hold off blockers and make plays against the run. He’s obviously still developing, but he’s looked better all-around in the preseason than Bud Dupree, the team’s first round pick.
7. ILBs Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Terence Garvin
These guys didn’t enter camp with much to prove outside of maybe Shazier, but all five have been standouts from beginning to end, showing off the depth Pittsburgh has at inside linebacker. Shazier is much more confident and cerebral than last year, combining his impressive instants and quickness with improved read-and-diagnose skills. Spence has shown increased physicality and instincts in coverage too, while Williams and Garvin hit everyone they could in training camp. Timmons has been out with a toe injury, but the man is a high-motor rock when he is in there for Pittsburgh.
8. CB B.W. Webb and CB Kevin Fogg
The battle for the #6 cornerback spot on Pittsburgh’s active roster is real, as both Fogg and Webb have had outstanding camps. Webb has looked better in games and has typically faced better competition, but Fogg’s ball skills have really stood out during practices. He has a great knack for getting his head around to find and make plays on the ball in the air without losing his feel for the receiver. Webb is a smart player who can press, tackle, and play the run with ease, as well as man the slot or the boundary. His special teams prowess likely gives him the edge right now, but this battle will be one to watch as the preseason progresses.
9. S Ian Wild and S Alden Darby
Another fierce battle happening for the #5 safety spot (if there is one), as Wild and Darby have both had superb camps for the Steelers. Darby has the vocal leadership and locker room character Pittsburgh craves, while showing physicality against the run game and strong tackling skills. Wild was probably in on more tackles during training camp than any other player, and has shown great instincts and smarts in coverage. I think Wild is the better player and offers more versatility, but Darby is well-liked here and is no slouch at the position either. Wild has been playing inside linebacker lately and is still making plays there, so he likely has the versatility edge, but this battle should go the distance to the final round of cuts.
10. P Jordan Berry
Berry looked overmatched during the first practice, and will still occasionally shank a punt pretty badly, but has had consistently better hang times than Brad Wing with almost as good a leg. Mike Tomlin also seems to like Berry and have been impressed with his performances, but he could be trying to push Wing to be a more consistent punter with his uplifting comments to Berry. Neither punter is likely an ideal starter, but the battle should last at least the next two preseason games before the coaching staff chooses between the two.
1. OG Chris Hubbard
Two abysmal preseason games have Hubbard’s roster spot firmly in jeopardy heading into game #3. What does he really do well? He’s not powerful at the point of attack and consistently gets too upright in his stance, allowing himself to be leverage and knocked off the ball. He’s a below-average athlete that can’t hit second level targets and gets caught lunging too often. Hubbard just doesn’t look like an NFL-caliber player, even given the time and work Pittsburgh has put into him. He could be a surprise cut when the rosters drop to 53 players.
2. OG Miles Dieffenbach
I expected Dieffenbach to struggle with power rushers and get overwhelmed occasionally at the line of scrimmage, but I hoped his anchor and technique would be better. He’s a waist-bender who doesn’t have the length or strength to move guys off the snap, and can struggle to re-set against power rushers. He needs three strong preseason showings to earn a practice squad spot.
3. OT Kelvin Palmer and OT Kevin Whimpey
Palmer has been the better of the two, but he still got eaten alive against Jacksonville in live action. He has decent feet, but hand placement and power are major issues. Whimpey has been overwhelmed almost every snap, and has absolutely nothing going for him as a pass protector. He’s miscast as a tackle, but I didn’t see enough power in the run game to warrant surviving the first 15 cut list.
4. C Reese Dismukes
Think the Steelers have an offensive line depth problem? Dismukes may have had the toughest camp of anyone, from bad snaps to getting embarrassed daily in one-on-ones to struggling mightily to hold his ground in team sessions, the Auburn product just isn’t on this level of play in his skill set or physical abilities.
5. DE Matt Conrath
The long defensive end hasn’t been able to take advantage of opportunities to earn an open roster spot as the team’s #6 defensive lineman, as Conrath has shown very little in practice or games so far. We’ve laughed often about the fact that he has one move as a pass rusher, but Conrath is also a poor athlete who doesn’t play with much leverage or power. I don’t think he’ll be considered for a practice squad spot at all at this point.
6. OLB Howard Jones
It hasn’t all been bad for Jones, but it definitely hasn’t been good enough, or consistent enough. Jones makes a lot of cerebral mistakes and shows a startling lack of awareness at times, but his physical tools are alluring. He can get engulfed by blockers if he doesn’t use his hands well, and is more reactive than pro-active against the run. Jones flashes on most days, but his inability to be a strong presence snap-to-snap could mean a practice squad spot is his best hope.
7. S Gerod Holliman
Holliman came into camp needing to prove he could become a consistent wrap-up tackler who showed zero hesitation in the physical aspects of the game, but he’s been unable to do so thus far. Holliman hasn’t been awful, but he hasn’t earned any extra playing time, while the likes of Wild, Darby, and even Jordan Dangerfield have been far more impressive. When you don’t get in until the five-minute mark against Jacksonville despite a shortage at safety, tough to view yourself as real roster spot competition.
8. S Ross Ventrone
Really through no fault of Ventrone’s, he’s clearly lost ground for the final safety spot to Darby and Wild during the preseason, as the veteran has been out since the beginning of camp with an ankle injury. He likely won’t play on Sunday, meaning that Ventrone is down to two preseason games to prove his worth. He’s a special teams demon, but with his salary full guaranteed if he’s on the Week 1 roster, Ventrone could be a late cut if he can’t prove himself soon.
1. WR Sammie Coates
Man is he difficult to evaluate, at times showing impressive athleticism and focus, while at other times looking entirely disinterested. His physical skill set is awesome, but Coates struggles with the little things, including hand-eye coordination, tracking the ball over his shoulder, and being explosive in his route stem. Right now I don’t see a big role for Coates as a rookie, as he’ll likely need to prove himself on special teams before heavy usage as a receiver occurs.
2. QB Landry Jones
Jones hasn’t been good despite receiving tons of work so far this preseason, but he has been better than the past two years. That isn’t saying much at all, but Jones clearly has worked hard to obtain a better grasp of the offense and improve his timing in the pocket. Still, he’s clearly not worth a roster spot to me, and will never be a guy capable of starting even one game in this league. He’s simply not on this level, not against starting defenses.
3. TE Cameron Clear
When Michael Egnew and Rob Blanchflower were waived, a huge opportunity opened up for Clear to make some noise and grab at least a practice spot. Instead the big tight end has been out of practice with an injury, and has failed to make an impact during preseason action. Nevertheless, that practice squad spot is likely still his if he can return to the field this upcoming week.
4. OG B.J. Finney
I expected a better camp out of Finney, who clearly had major adjustments to make moving to guard after playing center in college. He isn’t much of an athlete, but he does work hard in all aspects of the game and possesses power at the point-of-attack. I like how he re-anchors against power rushers, but he does get knocked off his base a good bit. Without ideal length or physical tools, Finney will need to become quite the technician to ever develop as an offensive guard.
5. OLB Bud Dupree
Dupree’s best trait is his first step burst, but outside of that it has been a tough preseason for him. His lack of awareness and technique against the run is noticeable as it was in college, and he needs to be more physical and aggressive setting the edge. He’s very reactive against the run and rarely proactive, a major knock against him in my college assessment of the Kentucky product. Dupree is a strong athlete with a high ceiling, but his pass rushing repertoire needs a vast array of improvement. He’s a long-term payoff guy, but the physical tools are there.
6. DL Ethan Hemer
Hemer was stronger at the point of attack this year, and rarely got beat up by blockers, but he’s a below-average athlete without special traits. It was a decent camp for him, but I doubt he did enough to make the active roster. Practice squad seems likely.
7. S Shamarko Thomas
I haven’t mentioned many starters because their stock is likely secure at this point, but Thomas needed a strong preseason to put fans’ minds at ease, and he really hasn’t done much at all. The Syracuse product has a lot to prove over these final three preseason games, especially considering the team’s shift to heavy Cover 2 concepts.
8. TE Jesse James
There have been flashes, but James has also looked overwhelmed at times, which is understandable for a rookie. He’s obviously had a tough camp with the death of his close friend, but some big preseason games are on the horizon for him. Should see plenty of playing time and opportunity to lock up the #3 tight end spot if he hasn’t already