The Pittsburgh Steelers will close out their 2018 preseason Thursday night at home against the Carolina Panthers and while most of the spots on this year’s 53-man roster are already spoken for, more than just a few could very well still be up for grabs.
Below is an extensive list of players on the Steelers roster who presumably enter Thursday night on the proverbial roster bubble. Obviously, several of these players are more inside the bubble than outside of it, but with that noted, I’m not sure I would call any of the 17 listed below as locks, or completely out of the picture.
OFFENSIVE BUBBLE BOYS:
Jaylen Samuels – The Steelers fifth-round selection this year out of North Carolina State had a good showing last week against the Tennessee Titans but did we really learn anything new about him in that preseason game? He’s still more of a liability than an asset on special teams at this point and that’s not a great thing when it comes to a potential third running back on a 53-man roster. While Samuels might ultimately make the 53-man roster, he’s far from a lock right now to do so entering this final preseason game.
Fitzgerald Toussaint – Time certainly seems to be running out for Toussaint and especially since the Steelers traded for wide receiver Ryan Switzer this past week as he’s now a lock to be the team’s kickoff and punt returner. Toussaint’s saving grace entering this final preseason game is that he’s still damn good in pass protection and an above average special teams player. He’ll need another good showing Thursday night and perhaps some help but he’s not out of the picture completely just yet.
Stevan Ridley – A groin injury has prevented Ridley from practicing and playing in preseason games. Will he be healthy enough to play Thursday night against the Panthers? If he’s not, it’s hard to make a case for him surviving the final cut.
Justin Hunter – The Steelers preseason game against the titans was a microcosm of Hunter’s NFL career to date. That said, he can still get open down the field and at 6-4, is the tallest wide receiver on the Steelers roster. As frustrated as he might get with Hunter at times, one must think quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will push hard for Hunter to stick around past Saturday even though the wide receiver doesn’t play any on special teams.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – He’s still a special teams demon and a great leader for the younger wide receivers in the locker room. He can still get open down the field, but his hands remain his own worst enemy. Special teams coordinator Danny Smith might be the one who holds DHB’s fate in his hands come Saturday.
Damoun Patterson – Once the Steelers acquired the Switzer via a trade, Patterson’s chances of making the 53-man roster as a rookie took a big hit. He was shutout against the Titans and thus will need a big game Thursday night not only on offense, but perhaps special teams as well if he wants to have a shot at being wide receiver No. 6 come Saturday night.
Zach Banner – On the surface, the Steelers already have eight offensive line spots spoken for barring any injuries Thursday night. Should they choose to keep a ninth offensive lineman on their initial 53-man roster this year, however, odds are very good it will be Banner, a former fourth-round draft pick out of USC who has looked good so far since being added well after training camp got underway.
Joshua Dobbs – It’s hard to imagine the Steelers keeping four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster this year and even harder to imagine them trading veteran backup Landry Jones ahead of Saturday evening. Dobbs will get a chance to start against the Panthers and he really needs his strongest preseason showing to date, in addition to a lot of help, to stick around on the 53 again. His accuracy hasn’t been all that this preseason and he’s just two tremendous touchdown catches by rookie wide receiver James Washington away from having a career preseason passing stat line of 57 of 96 (59.4%) for 647 yards with 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, which equates to a QB rating of 59.67.
Bucky Hodges – Hodges is only on this list of bubble boys due to the numerous injuries suffered at the position this summer. He really hasn’t stuck out too much during the preseason, but you can bet he’ll get a ton of playing time Thursday night. If the Steelers feel like one of their tight ends might not be ready for Week 1, then perhaps Hodges can stick an extra week or two on the 53-man roster. He can really help his cause with a solid showing against the Panthers.
DEFENSIVE BUBBLE BOYS:
Keion Adams – On the surface Adams appears to be considered by many to be a roster lock this year. That said, I’m not so sure I would bet my entire life’s savings on him making the 53-man roster. He’s had a nice preseason so far and that’s great to see being as he sat out his rookie season with a shoulder injury. One more solid showing Thursday night that includes some nice play on special teams should do the trick.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi – Will the Steelers keep four or five outside linebackers this year? If they keep five, you must like not only Adams’ chances of sticking, but Adeniyi’s as well. The rookie undrafted free agent out of Toledo has not disappointed so far this preseason and now he needs to finish it off with one more exhibition of consistent play Thursday night against the Panthers. At worst, I think Adeniyi will safely pass through waivers and make it to the Steelers practice squad. He’s probably not the asset that Adams is on special teams.
Farrington Huguenin – While Huguenin likely enters the final week of the preseason well outside the roster bubble, he can probably still see the outer edges of it. He needs a lot of things to go his way in the next couple days in addition to really sticking out Thursday night against the Panthers. unfortunately, he might need an injury to take place and that’s something nobody should be rooting for to happen.
L.J. Fort – It’s hard to imagine rookie undrafted free agent Matthew Thomas not sticking on the 53 this year and the same goes for special teams demon Tyler Matakevich. Those two players sticking could result in Fort not. Fort, to his credit, is still an asset on special teams and he’s had a decent showing again on defense this year during the preseason to boot. Fort will likely need the Steelers to keep just four outside linebackers in total for him to stick on the 53. He’s an easy player to root for nonetheless.
Coty Sensabaugh – It’s hard to get a sense right now as to where the Steelers are on Sensabaugh. While he can contribute some on special teams, Sensabaugh is far from being considered an ace in that phase of the game. Additionally, should Sensabaugh make the 53 this year as a No. 6 cornerback, he’d be a candidate to be a weekly inactive player. In short, the Steelers need to figure out if his experience and ability make him worth carrying one final season. He might need to make himself uncuttable Thursday night with a big play or two.
Marcus Allen – Allen, who was drafted in the fifth-round this year out of Penn State, fortunate was able to get back on the field last week against the Titans after missing some time with an injury, which certainly hasn’t helped his cause. Additionally, the Steelers will likely need to keep five safeties in total if Allen hopes to stick past Saturday. At worst, he should be able to get through waivers and to the practice squad. Regardless, he really needs to stick out against the Panthers Thursday night.
SPECIALIST BUBBLE BOYS:
Jordan Berry – The Steelers put Berry on notice a few weeks ago due to his inconsistent punting. The fact that the team has kept two punters on their 90-man roster all summer speaks volumes. Him having a base salary that’s $1.3 million more than his competitor’s certainly might end up hurting him as well. He better be stellar Thursday night with the pressure on him.
Matt Wile – Wile is the other punter that’s competing against Berry and he’s been the more consistent of the two this preseason. Wile also showed he could kickoff and placekick a few preseason games ago so that’s another thing he brings to the table in this battle. His ultra-low base salary could win out.