For most of the season, it was a weekly question as to which wide receiver the Pittsburgh Steelers would dress as the active number five on game days between the veteran Justin Hunter and the rookie James Washington. It wasn’t clear going into the opener if Washington would dress, but injuries made it possible to dress all six, making the question moot.
Once the team got healthier and the inactive list became less about health, however, Washington got the nod—until he didn’t, ending up as a healthy scratch twice following the bye week. But now at the end of the season, it’s likely that a healthy roster will regularly consist of all six wide receivers active, unless something further changes.
To begin with, most notably, the Steelers have one fewer offensive lineman that they need to make inactive each week now that Marcus Gilbert was placed on injured reserve. Inside linebacker Matthew Thomas was also a weekly inactive as a special teams contributor; now he’s on the practice squad.
He was replaced by Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, but has only been active for one game in which the team wasn’t sure if Bud Dupree would play. He’s been inactive since and may remain inactive barring injury.
It’s because of moves such as these that Eli Rogers likely doesn’t share Hunter’s fate, sitting on the bench on a weekly basis as a healthy scratch. There is a minor question that will arise soon that could hurt him though.
That will be when James Conner returns, because it likely means that Trey Edmunds would be released and sent back down to the practice squad. While that wouldn’t change the number of running backs dressing, it will mean that another position is being added to.
And the team could decide to make a move such as bringing Thomas back to the 53-man roster and dressing him for special teams purposes again. With Ryan Switzer, Rogers doesn’t have a special teams role this year, which is what helped to keep him active last season.
Going forward, and assuming full health, we can safely project the following inactives for every game going forward, in all likelihood: QB Mason Rudolph; OT Zach Banner; DL L.T. Walton; OLB Ola Adeniyi; CB Brian Allen; and S Marcus Allen.
These are the players that have been consistently inactive all season (or since they’ve been on the roster) as long as their own position group has been healthy, and there’s no obvious reason to assume that will change.
But that leaves one spot open for the inactive list, which currently is reserved for Conner until he returns. If they leave Edmunds on the roster, he may well be the final inactive player, but he also contributes on special teams.
TL;DR version: Marcus Gilbert going on injured reserve and a depth linebacker falling out of favor on special teams make it easier for the Steelers to justify dressing six wide receivers every game, which furthers their ability to run receiver-heavy packages and even the five-receiver set that we saw last week.