The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a lot of success over the years with undrafted rookie free agents. You can go all the way back to Donnie Shell if you want, or talk about James Harrison, but you don’t even need to invoke such names in order to prove the point that they have historically done well in bringing in players after the draft and turning them into quality contributors.
The most evident example of that on the current roster would be Ramon Foster, who is entering his 10th season and has started over 100 games for the team. He was originally signed by them as a college free agent out of Tennessee in 2009 and has not gone anywhere since.
The problem is, their success sin this department has been running out lately. While they have been able to turn talent around that originally spent time, even full seasons, with other teams—Alejandro Villanueva, Mike Hilton, Matt Feiler, Chris Boswell, Xavier Grimble—their undrafted classes of recent years have left much to be desired.
That is, perhaps, until now. There are at least two rookie college free agents on the 90-man roster who currently have a great chance of making the 53-man roster, and a handful of others who either have an outside chance or who will likely strongly push for a spot on the practice squad.
And the bigger names have hit at some of the neediest positions. Outside linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (whom I humblebraggingly point out that I mocked to the Steelers in the seventh round) and inside linebacker Matthew Thomas are at least one the roster bubble right now, if not inside, and can solidify their spots tomorrow in the preseason finale.
While it looks like the 53-man roster ship has sailed for Damoun Patterson following the trade for Ryan Switzer, he still is well-positioned to earn a position on the practice squad, as are tight end Pharoah McKever, offensive linemen R.J. Prince, Larson Graham, and/or Patrick Morris, and defensive lineman Greg Gilmore. Another possible practice squad candidate is running back Jarvion Franklin.
The Steelers have in the past signed up to four players from other teams’ rosters to their initial practice squads, so thin was their overall depth. That was in 2015. They then released those four players and signed four other players. Trivia time: three of them are still here, two of whom have already been named in this article (Feiler, Grimble, and Fitzgerald Toussaint).
It doesn’t look like they should have that problem this year, though it’s conceivable that they could sign one or two outside players at, for example, tight end or linebacker. But, in large part thanks to the evident quality of this year’s college free agent class, they appear to be deeper than they have been in years, and that is being reflected in the likelihood that a couple of them make the 53-man roster.