Alex Kozora drew first blood with the 53-man roster predictions, so, not to be outdone, I think it’s only fair that I get out my ridiculously early first crack at the roster now as well so we can all look back a month from now and see how badly I got it wrong. That’s part of the fun of doing this, isn’t it?
Quarterback (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Bruce Gradkowski
Analysis: Not much analysis required. These are the three guys they have, though the order of the final two can be jumbled. For now I have to lean toward the notion that the team will favor Jones as the backup.
Running Back (3) – DeAngelo Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Daryl Richardson
Analysis: Last year, the Steelers went out to add Jordan Todman to the 53-man roster to start the season after their training camp roster was decimated at running back. This year, I think they have a player of similar ability in Richardson to be the third back behind Toussaint to start the year, but we all know this position won’t mean much in the end.
Fullback (1) – Roosevelt Nix
Analysis: Last Year, Nix was a near certainty to be looking for employment elsewhere. Now it’s hard to see him not making the team.
Tight End (4) – Ladarius Green, Jesse James, David Johnson, Xavier Grimble
Analysis: I know it’s not all that exciting to see a team carry four tight ends, but they’ve done so fairly often in recent years and I see this year as one to do it. Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are gone. Johnson comes back with some experience in the system and can block, while Green has a different sort of role at the position than the team is used to. I think over the course of the next month, Grimble will justify a roster spot, but he’ll have to earn it on special teams. Otherwise it’s back to the practice squad.
Wide Receiver (5) – Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Demarcus Ayers
Analysis: The first four aren’t much of a discussion, and are about as locked in as any four from any other position. Right now I think the team will favor Ayers over Eli Rogers. But admittedly there isn’t a whole lot to base that off of for either party. I could see them carrying six wide receivers if one wins the return job.
Offensive Tackle (4) – Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert, Ryan Harris, Jerald Hawkins
Analysis: Another pretty safe bet. The Steelers don’t always manage to carry four true tackles, but this year they seem to have a group they’re happy with, adding Hawkins in the draft as a guy who can develop on the inactive list.
Interior Offensive Line (5) – Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Cody Wallace, B.J. Finney
Analysis: Though the coaching staff has obviously been favorable toward Chris Hubbard this year, and would be on the 53-man roster right now if it were decided today, I’m going out on a limb and saying that by the end of August Finney will nudge ahead of him. They like him too, after all, as indicated by his pay raise on the practice squad last year.
Defensive Ends (4) – Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Ricardo Mathews, L.T. Walton
Analysis: No surprises here. I expect Walton to show a little bit of improvement this year, while I don’t anticipate that any of the other young defensive ends will be all that competitive for the roster spot.
Nose Tackle (2) – Daniel McCullers, Javon Hargrave
Analysis: There are really only two legitimate options here. If one of them gets hurt, the Steelers could be in trouble.
Outside Linebacker (5) – James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo
Analysis: While the Steelers drafted Travis Feeney, I have a hard time picturing him being healthy long enough this summer to make much of an impact, and, like Alex, I fear he may end up on injured reserve, or otherwise, the practice squad.
Inside Linebacker (5) – Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Steven Johnson, L.J. Fort
Analysis: I’m glad to see that Alex came around on Fort, although the roster battle is still very much up in the air at this point. Of all the players in the competition, Johnson and Fort are by far the two most ready to contribute on defense and special teams right now, and they are looking to replace two core special teams players here.
Cornerback (5) – William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Artie Burns, Senquez Golson, Doran Grant
Analysis: I have the Steelers only going with five cornerbacks right now, as they did last year, and I’m not sure that Grant ends up being the fifth guy. As Alex mentioned, it could be Donald Washington. Or it could be Montell Garner. Or Al-Hajj Shabazz. It’s too early to say beyond the top four guys.
Safety (4) – Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, Sean Davis, Shamarko Thomas
Analysis: And when it comes to safety, I have a hard time getting a fifth guy in there, that obviously being Ross Ventrone. Thomas is a core special teams player and Davis will be one as well, as is Golden, of course, who should start. That’s already three primary special teams players from the position group. And, of course, Mitchell’s stoic performances on the field goal defense units.
Special Teams (3)
Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell
Analysis: No longer a conversation with the news of Shaun Suisham’s career potentially being over. If Boswell has another good season I wouldn’t be surprised if the front office looks to lock him up next year.
Punter (1) – Jordan Berry
Analysis: At this point I have no compelling reason to believe Will Monday will unseat Berry. I have read that the second-year punter’s leg has looked rejuvenated after a long season last year, so here’s hoping for more consistency.
Long Snapper (1) – Greg Warren
Analysis: Greg Warren just does whatever he wants, and it’s time that we accept that. And I’m glad to see that there were a couple of Warren jerseys here and there at camp
Practice Squad: RB Brandon Brown-Dukes, WR Eli Rogers, WR Canaan Severin, OL Chris Hubbard, DE Giorgio Newberry, DT Lavon Hooks, ILB Tyler Matakevich, OLB Travis Feeney, CB Al-Hajj Shabazz, S Jordan Dangerfield
Cameron Stingily is back once again, and lighter, but I don’t know that he has enough quickness to justify a spot here. The Steelers like to keep at least seven wide receivers with the expanded practice squad. Rogers is an obvious choice, but Severin is an intriguing size guy. Hubbard still has practice squad eligibility, and with Hawkins on the 53, they don’t need a practice squad tackle, though Hubbard could do that as well if need be.
On the defensive side of the ball, I think Newberry is the most interesting DE, but Caushaud Lyons is still a wildcard. Hooks is the only other DT with interior size. Feeney and Matakevich are rookie draft picks they won’t let slip away just yet. Shabazz is an interesting player with size, and they like size prospects sometimes. Dangerfield gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside to have around, and they love a safety who hits.