The Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe for their annual training camp exactly five weeks from tomorrow and the group of 90 players that arrives there will include quite a few who ended the 2017 season on the team’s 53-man roster who are from guaranteed to make the 2018 unit.
Below is a list of eight players who ended the 2017 season on the Steelers 53-man roster who are from guaranteed to be on this year’s Week 1 squad as we sit here five weeks out from the start of training camp.
Daniel McCullers – (DT) – McCullers only played 13 defensive snaps for the Steelers in 2017 and that’s a very telling number. This summer, McCullers has a new group of young defensive tackles he’ll need to beat out for a roster spot with rookies Joshua Frazier and Greg Gilmore leading the list. In short, it will be very surprising if McCullers winds up being on the Steelers 53-man roster come Week 1.
Coty Sensabaugh -(CB) – If not for veteran cornerback Joe Haden getting injured last season, the 241 defensive snaps that Sensabaugh ultimately played in 2017 would have likely been a lot less. To Sensabaugh’s credit, however, he did register 5 total special teams tackles for the Steelers in 2017 as part of him playing just 137 total snaps on those units. Even so, that fact, combined with Sensabaugh’s experience of playing multiple cornerback positions, still might not be enough to warrant keeping him in 2018. Barring injuries at the cornerback position, Sensabaugh might need to beat out the second-year Brian Allen during the remainder of the summer if he hopes to play a second season in Pittsburgh. His $1.4 million base salary in 2018, while not a lot, will also be tough to justify.
Justin Hunter (WR) – While the Steelers did trade wide receiver Martavis Bryant during this year’s draft, they turned right around and selected wide receiver James Washington in the second-round and thus odds are good he’ll see a lot of playing time right away as either the No. 3 or No. 4 on the depth chart. Hunter’s 2017 season with the Steelers, his first in Pittsburgh, was nondescript as he caught just 4 passes for 23 yards and a touchdown in very limited playing time. His inability to contribute on special teams will make him hard to keep this year and especially if the decision is ultimately made to keep veteran wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is also on this list. Hunter might very well need an injury or two to happen to make this year’s 53-man roster.
Fitzgerald Toussaint – (RB) – After spending the first half of the 2017 season on the Steelers practice squad, Toussaint was finally added to the 53-man roster in November. Once added, he played sparingly on offense and ended the regular season with just 25 yards rushing on 6 total carries with most of that production coming in the Steelers meaningless finale. To Toussaint’s credit, he is good in pass protection in addition to being a willing and able special teams contributor. Those attributes, however, might not ultimately be enough to warrant him making the 53-man roster in September.
Stevan Ridley – (RB) – While he didn’t play much after arriving in Pittsburgh late in the 2017 regular season, the experienced Ridley did end the year with 108 yards rushing and a touchdown on 26 total carries. With the second-year James Conner expected to be, at worst, the Steelers No. 3 running back on the depth chart in 2018, Ridley will likely need to win the No. 2 job behind starter Le’Veon Bell outright this summer to stick on the 53 as he’s never been known for being a huge special teams contributor during his NFL career. Conner isn’t Ridley’s only training camp competition this summer as fellow running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and rookie draft pick Jaylen Samuels will both be looking to secure the same roster spot.
Joshua Dobbs – (QB) – When the Steelers spent a third-round selection in this year’s draft on quarterback Mason Rudolph, Dobbs’ potential spot on the team’s 2018 53-man roster went from guaranteed to doubtful. At this point, the Steelers 2017 fourth-round selection will likely need Rudolph to beat out current No. 2 quarterback Landry Jones during the remainder of the summer for the right to open the regular season as the backup behind starter Ben Roethlisberger to give him a shot at sticking on the 53. On top of that, Dobbs will need to show quite a bit of development during the next few months in hopes that it will tempt the Steelers to dump Jones.
L.J. Fort – (ILB) – The fact that Fort wast used heavily on defense last season after fellow inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and Tyler Matakevich both suffered injuries was very telling on the surface. Instead, the Steelers chose to sign Sean Spence off the street and play him heavily in addition to letting veteran outside linebacker Arthur Moats kick inside for some limited playing time. Fort’s saving grace entering this year’s training camp is that he’s a decent special teams player. His upcoming summer battles at Latrobe will likely include him needing to beat out rookie undrafted free agent Matthew Thomas and if unable to do so, he will likely need to hope that the Steelers decide to keep five inside linebackers in total.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (WR) – On the surface, Heyward-Bey is likely the safest player on this list when it comes to making this year’s 53-man roster due mostly in part to his special teams ability and the veteran leadership he provides. As a pure wide receiver, however, Heyward-Bey has only registered 32 regular season receptions for 508 yards and four touchdowns in his four years in Pittsburgh and just 8 receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns in his last two years in the black and gold. Will his intangibles really be enough to keep him around one more season at a base salary of $1.2 million?
Note: I debated adding tight end Xavier Grimble and quarterback Landry Jones to this list, but as things stand currently, those two players seemingly have great odds at making the Steelers 53-man roster this year.