It’s that time of year, folks. The time where we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what the 53-man roster is gong to look like four months before a 53-man roster is going to exist, and predictably being quite wrong. My partners have already gotten theirs up, so it was time for me to bring up the rear with my own way-too-early roster prediction.
Quarterbacks (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Joshua Dobbs, Mason Rudolph
Analysis: I know it’s quite daring of me to go with the three quarterbacks who were already on the team last season, but I’m willing to stick my neck out on this one. I’m calling my shot: Dobbs and Rudolph both make the team if they’re healthy. Beware, Old Takes Exposed.
Running Backs (3) – James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell
Analysis: Yet another easy prediction, considering that Conner is a Pro Bowler, Samuels was already his backup by the end of last season, and they just drafted Snell in the fourth round while talking about how much they loved his character and similarities to Conner, as well as a desire to have more of a rotation. But I don’t want to discount the possibility of Trey Edmunds, the brother of their starting safety, returning because of his special teams abilities. It depends on how he shows in the preseason and what the numbers elsewhere on the roster look like.
Fullbacks (1) – Roosevelt Nix
Analysis: Somebody has to tell him he didn’t make the team, and I don’t see that happening.
Wide Receivers (6) – JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Ryan Switzer, Diontae Johnson, Eli Rogers
Analysis: It is any less pointless to carry Rogers this year than it was to have Justin Hunter on the roster for the past two? Not in my mind. With Antonio Brown gone, it makes sense to have as many options as possible, and if they’re really going to start to run five-receiver sets, you should probably have six. Spare tire theory and all that. I do think Rogers is the low man on the totem pole, however.
Tight Ends (3) – Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
Analysis: At least for the moment, I’m not getting very adventurous with the tight end position. While they got bold a couple of years ago bringing McDonald in, that’s when they thought the entire group was trash and they needed a top-of-the-depth-chart player. They already like their top two guys, and I think can let Gentry learn, even if he is a healthy scratch sometimes.
Offensive Linemen (9) – Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva, B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, Jerald Hawkins, Patrick Morris
Analysis: I’m not happy about letting Zach Banner go (he still has practice squad eligibility), but the reality is that the interior depth is thinner if Feiler is starting. At least for the moment, I’m predicting he wins the job, but if Okorafor does, Feiler can be an interior reserve and Banner could have a shot of making the team again. Morris is the best of their other interior reserves and is very center-capable, which is a big plus.
Defensive Linemen (6) – Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu, Isaiah Buggs, Daniel McCullers
Analysis: This is one of the easiest calls on the roster, I think. The top four are already decidedly entrenched and there isn’t much challenge to McCullers. Buggs just has to prove not to be a bust. With that said, I still want to get a look at Lavon Hooks and Casey Sayles this summer.
Inside Linebackers (4) – Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Devin Bush, Tyler Matakevich
Analysis: I see the battle for the final roster spot as being a three-way race between Gilbert, Artie Burns, and Brian Allen. Perhaps despite my better judgement, I’m giving the nod to the most veteran of that group. Matakevich is a mainstay on special teams and Gilbert can use time on the practice squad unless he blows up for Danny Smith.
Outside Linebackers (5) – Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Sutton Smith
Analysis: After watching Smith’s tape, I can’t see him not making the roster. The way he plays on defense tells you he’s going to be a legitimate asset on special teams right away, and his pass-rushing skills are strong. If he can overcome his size, they may legitimately have something here.
Cornerbacks (6) – Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne, Artie Burns
Analysis: I’m probably going to be crucified for this, but for now I see Burns making the team. They’ve constructed the roster so that they don’t have to count on him, but they still want him to show something, which is why they’ve been talking about him at every stage of the process. Expect him to play a lot of special teams this year though.
Safeties (4) – Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield
Analysis: My thinking here goes back to Mike Tomlin’s remarks about the versatility of players like Hilton and Sutton to play at the back end if necessary in their comfort level of going only four-deep at safety, which frankly they have done plenty of times before. I also think they really like Allen and Dangerfield as their reserves, though it would certainly be nice to have somebody with more range. That player can be developed on the practice squad.
Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell
Analysis: Forgive me, but I’m not yet sold on the other kickers. However, if there was any position where I thought they were going to address with a trade in August, it would be here. Boswell had a bad year, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to remain bad indefinitely.
Punter (1) – Jordan Berry
Analysis: Berry’s roster spot I don’t feel good about either, but I need to learn more about his competition. I’ve been a bit more down on him than my partners have in recent years, but you don’t make changes for the sake of doing so.
Long Snapper (1) – Kameron Canaday
Analysis: While he should be the favorite, the Steelers have another long snapper on their roster too, and Canaday had his shaky moments, including holding calls.
Practice Squad (11)
RB Trey Edmunds, WR Tevin Jones, TE Christian Scotland-Williamson, OT Zach Banner, OL Derwin Gray, DL Lavon Hooks, ILB Ulysees Gilbert III, CB Brian Allen, S P.J. Locke, DB Jack Tocho, TE TBD
I believe at least one player not currently on the 90-man roster will make it on the practice squad (that’s usually the case), and the most likely spot, at least based on my 53-man roster prediction, for that area to be addressed is at tight end, with only the rugby player to round out the group. I think Gray’s potential to play inside will give R.J. Prince a good battle, but I’m still hanging onto the behemoth Banner. I have Edmunds returning to the practice squad, where he spent most of last season before bring promoted for the final four games. Hooks has one year of eligibility left and is about to turn 45 or something. Allen returns to the squad where he started last season. I like Tocho as well, as he can play cornerback or safety.