The preseason is now behind us, and behind the Pittsburgh Steelers. That means that there is only one last crack at predicting the 53-man roster. My predictions have already changed twice from before training camp to after the first preseason game to after the second to finally after the third, and as you might guess, things have changed again. I want to get my predictions in now in case the team starts trimming down later today.
Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs
Both Jones returning and Dobbs having a better showing have me feeling a bit better about this position overall than I did a couple of week ago in terms of depth.
Running Back (4): Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Terrell Watson, Roosevelt Nix
It was already close going in, but I think Watson has now shown enough for the Steelers to convince them to keep him over Knile Davis. The first-year back has run well and his long burn on special teams last night was a clear indication that the team was waiting for him to seize the opportunity.
Wide Receiver (6): Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey
Justin Hunter may have beaten a rookie undrafted free agent cornerback for a long touchdown last night, but that alone is not going to net him a roster spot. As Mike Tomlin might say, it was an 11-grader going up against a junior varsity team. They gave him the chance to earn his spot with last night’s start, but my prediction is that it will not be enough. If Heyward-Bey’s job were really in jeopardy they would have had him and Coates working the gunner positions rather than people like Brandon Dixon and Dashaun Phillips. And the bottom line is that Hunter would still be a shoe-in for the inactive list on game day, so there is no need to carry him. JuJu, Coates, and Heyward-Bey would all be key contributors on special teams, while Rogers could return if they let him.
Tight End (3): Vance McDonald, Jesse James, David Johnson
Did you see that Johnson catch-and-rumble? The Steelers could use him more in the passing game if they wanted to. Anyway, McDonald showed last night that he is clearly the most talented tight end on the roster, and James’ demotion is imminent. Despite Grimble’s strong third preseason game, he still loses out to the more reliable veteran.
Offensive Line (8): Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, B.J. Finney, Chris Hubbard, Jerald Hawkins
Hawkins has certainly had his ugly moments during the preseason, but he has shown enough overall to merit the position. Matt Feiler may have played better overall, but he has been inconsistent too, particularly on picking up stunts.
Defensive Line (6): Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, L.T. Walton, Lavon Hooks
After two straight weeks of getting the looks over Johnny Maxey, it’s hard not to favor Hooks right now. The rest I think has been set for a good long while.
Outside Linebacker (5): Bud Dupree, James Harrison, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo, Arthur Moats
There is certainly no reason to deviate the plan here. Keion Adams gets a season of observing on the practice squad.
Inside Linebacker (4): Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, L.J. Fort
After yet another strong game, Fort is obviously making the roster. I’m not sure Steven Johnson has even played the past two weeks.
Cornerback (7): Joe Haden, Artie Burns, William Gay, Cameron Sutton, Coty Sensabaugh, Mike Hilton, Brian Allen
This is very tough here because of the injury situation at safety, but ultimately I’m sticking with this, swapping in Haden for Ross Cockrell.
Safety (4): Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield
I am making an uneducated guess that Dangerfield’s ankle injury is not significant and that Mitchell, the warrior that he is, will suit up for week one, the upshot of which being that the Steelers will not feel the need to carry Jacob Hagen on the initial 53-man roster. A major caveat is that they could add a safety off waivers or as a veteran cut. In that case, the most vulnerable roster spots would be Allen, Moats, and Hooks, in that order.
Kicker: Chris Boswell
He almost sent another extra point wide, this time I think on a snap that was a bit inside by Kameron Canaday. But it’s not like there’s another kicker so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Punter: Jordan Berry
Berry was a little inconsistent last night, but he pinned a couple of punts deep at the end of the game. A decent preseason all around.
Long Snapper: Colin Holba
Holba may have had one clearly bad snap and perhaps a couple of iffy ones, but really nothing through four games to boot him for another unproven long snapper.
Practice Squad (10): WR Demarcus Ayers, WR Marcus Tucker TE Jake McGee, RB Trey Williams, T Brian Mihalik, OL Keavon MIlton, DE Johnny Maxey, ILB Matt Galambos, OLB Farrington Huguenin, S Jacob Hagen
A few changes, as usual. After Tucker’s performance last night, he convinces the team to keep eight wide receivers rather than eight defensive linemen, knocking off Roy Philon. With Watson and Hooks making the 53-man roster, they are replaced by Maxey and Trey Williams. The rest remains.