There’s no way of getting around the fact that NFL rosters are cyclical in nature. Every year at a minimum, hundreds upon hundreds of new players enter the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve and other non-active lists.
With hundreds of players drafted every year and just as many if not more coming in as undrafted free agents, it’s inevitable that some of the 2000-plus players with NFL contracts from the season before are going to lose their spots. Some teams see far more turnover than others on a regular basis.
As we get close to the draft, I want to do some risk assessment for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster based on their current needs and how they have handled them in free agency, compared to how they typically go about handling their business in the draft.
Asset: T Jerald Hawkins
Roster Vulnerability: Medium
Role Vulnerability: Low
It’s difficult to talk about the offensive line in this series because this is the one group on the roster outside of the quarterback position that is the least likely to be touched in the draft. Even a specialist is more likely to be drafted, I think, than an offensive lineman. But it’s certainly far from impossible.
The lineman who has been on the 53-man roster before that I believe is most vulnerable to being released, I think, is Jerald Hawkins, though one can also argue Zach Banner. In Hawkins’ case, however, he has spent two of his three seasons on injured reserve, and that is always going to leave a player vulnerable.
The Steelers are almost definitely not going to use a draft pick on a true tackle. They already have Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, Hawkins, and Banner, in addition to others capable of lining up at tackle such as R.J. Prince.
But they could use a draft pick on an interior lineman, especially with the potential for Feiler to start at tackle. Feiler is the team’s number two interior reserve, so if he is starting, he’s not going to get a lot of practice time inside.
That would also ensure that Feiler is one of the four tackles on the roster in addition to two interior linemen. Okorafor is sure to be one of the backups. Hawkins then would be in competition with Banner for a potential ninth and final roster spot, and Banner arguably has more upside, in addition to practice squad eligibility. Prince can’t be ruled out either.
And the possibility of drafting a tackle can’t be entirely dismissed either, though it wouldn’t happen until day three. The reality is that they don’t have an incumbent non-injury starter at right tackle, so that’s one factor. Another is Hawkins’ injury history and the fact that he is heading into the last year of his contract already.