Draft Preview: The Roster Spots That Need To Be Refilled

Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is just around the corner and we have gone through our position-by-position review of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ personnel movements this offseason, I thought it would be advisable to provide an additional recap of all the players the team has had to or will have to replace from last season’s roster. Please let me know if I’m missing anybody who was on the 53-man roster in 2018 at the end of the season.

Antonio Brown: Brown forced his way out the door and is obviously the biggest blow of the offseason. Arguably the best wide receiver in the league, the Steelers are fortunate that they have another Pro Bowler on the shelf, but JuJu Smith-Schuster can’t replace him alone. They have brought in Donte Moncrief and will likely draft another wide receiver fairly early, no later than early day three.

Le’Veon Bell: Technically, Bell wasn’t on the 53-man roster last season, but the Steelers controlled his rights even though he never signed a contract, and so was on the Did Not Report List. The good news is that they already found his replacement in James Conner, with Jaylen Samuels and a pending draft pick to supplement.

Jesse James: Once the tight end market began to materialize and it became obvious that players no better than mid-tier were making bank, it was clear James would not remain in Pittsburgh. That leaves a hole not just in the depth chart but in the lineup that the team hasn’t yet filled.

L.J. Fort: Just as the team was finally utilizing his defensive abilities, Fort found himself a suitor in the Eagles. If there was one backup linebacker I wanted to be re-signed this offseason, it was him, but I can’t begrudge him getting his contract. After all, dude has been in the league since 2012 and only just now hit unrestricted free agency. The addition of Mark Barron and what will surely be a high draft pick, however, should make this loss negligible in the long run.

Marcus Gilbert: A Pro Bowl-caliber starting right tackle was traded away for a late sixth-round pick. Why? Because he is over 30, on the last year of his contract, and missed most of the past two years due to injury and suspension. That said, I’m still very much rooting for him to succeed in Arizona.

Morgan Burnett: On the flip side, I am rooting for failure for Burnett, the other player who requested his release. Not because he didn’t want to be here or because he didn’t play well or because he was a bad signing. It’s because he’s on the Cleveland Browns now, where he reunites with Damarious Randall and a bunch of front office personnel.

Coty Sensabaugh: Yeah, remember Sensabaugh? He was your starting right cornerback most of last season. And he hasn’t even gotten sniffed in free agency. Personally, I still wouldn’t hate to bring him back on a veteran-minimum deal depending on the outcome of the draft.

Darrius Heyward-Bey: A former special teams standout, locker room leader, and mentor, Heyward-Bey’s absence shouldn’t necessarily be pushed aside. With both him and Brown gone, that puts a lot of responsibility in the locker room on the 22-year-old Smith-Schuster. And his difference-making speed and smarts on special teams will be missed.

L.T. Walton: The rest of the group is the no-brainer departures. Walton spent most of last season inactive along the defensive line, dressing only when injury allowed. After four years, the Steelers will look to upgrade its depth here.

Justin Hunter: He was tall and fast, but never did a whole lot. Given that there will not be room for him after the draft, it’s no surprise he wasn’t re-signed again.

Nat Berhe: Berhe was brought in to replace Robert Golden on special teams, but he only played half the units. That’s always a bad sign, but of course he finished the year on injured reserve.

Stevan Ridley: Ridley quite literally fumbled his roster spot away last season, so, again, with the emergence of Samuels and Conner as the starter, Ridley wasn’t valued. He also offered little in the passing game over the course of his career, which is not what the Steelers look for any longer.

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