I do not know if they can, or if they will, but I do know this: this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers actually have the talent at the wide receiver and cornerback positions that would be sufficient to justify carrying an inordinate number of players on the 53-man roster, with built-in excuses.
When talking about an inordinate number at either position, we’re basically talking seven. Five or six is typically the norm for almost all teams around the league, but I cannot recall a time ever in which the Steelers have carried seven at either position at the beginning of a season.
This year, while I wouldn’t say the smart money is on it, I could see it happening. In fact, Alex Kozora has at least twice already predicted it. Before camp ends, depending on how things develop from this point on, perhaps one of my roster predications will feature this odd number as well.
So let’s take a look at each position individually and try to trim things down.
Starting with the wide receiver position, you have the no-brainers. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant (provided that he gets cleared in time, which shouldn’t be a problem), and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster are as locked as locked can be, and you have to figure that Eli Rogers is just about there too. Especially with them seemingly trying to feed him the punt return job.
So you already have four players there, and there is plenty of talent left over to parse through. Sammie Coates has worked his way back and is looking good so far, but we need to see him in a game. Justin Hunter has impressed, but again, we have to see him in a game.
Then there is Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has not had his best camp in terms of catching passes, but he offers so much elsewhere, and is such a stabilizing presence at a unit that has had quite a bit of turnover in recent years, that you hesitate to cut him.
So maybe you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re already left with seven wide receivers. All of them are worthy of a roster spot. Any combination of six of them would make a solid group, even if you take out Brown, which is kind of insane to think about. And that didn’t even factor in Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers.
Now, cornerback is a bit trickier. You have Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell, of course. One would have to figure at this point that William Gay is not going to get bumped. Coty Sensabaugh has done nothing to suggest he will not be here. And Cameron Sutton is a rookie third-round pick.
There are still three more legitimate players vying for whatever is left after five guys, however, and an argument can be made for all of them. Mike Hilton showed his special teams value and gets his hands on a lot of passes in practice, for example.
Brian Allen, the wide receiver conversion project, has been steadily making progress and is getting better and better. And the better he gets, the greater risk you take trying to get him to the practice squad.
Again, that is seven already there, without even mentioning the possibility of Senquez Golson throwing his hat into the ring. Carrying seven at either of these positions is a rarity, but the Steelers also have rare depth at both.