All the cool people are doing it (Alex’s will be up shortly after mine), so you know I’m doing it too. With training camp set to get underway in short order, it’s time to get up our second 53-man roster predictions of the offseason, so we can look back on this in early September and laugh at our stupidity. I want to state for the record that I did not read my colleague’s predictions prior to writing mine in order to avoid bias. I also did not look back to my previous prediction to keep a fresh perspective. Going through the process of actually creating the roster is a sobering reminder of how limited space can really be.
Quarterbacks (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs
Analysis: It would take a rather unlikely series of events to prevent the quarterback depth chart from consisting of these three players. I do expect Rudolph to claim the backup job from Dobbs this season. He reportedly looked sharper during the spring, so I’m looking forward to seeing him in the preseason.
Running Backs (3) – James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell Jr.
Analysis: Again, a position that seems to be pretty locked in already before we even get to training camp. The only real question in terms of personnel is whether or not Trey Edmunds can impress enough to force the team to carry four, a task that would have to also include special teams.
Fullbacks (1) – Roosevelt Nix
Analysis: Yes, Sutton Smith is practicing there, but don’t expect him to take Nix’s place to ‘save a roster spot’ or anything like that. The veteran is both a good fullback and a very good special teams player. He was used a career-low number of snaps in 2018, so it’s likely that he gets a bit more work this year.
Wide Receivers (6) – JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer, Eli Rogers
Analysis: The Steelers have too much talent at wide receiver not to make use of it all. And given that they started using five-wide sets late last season, it’s probably best to have a spare. Eli Rogers is going to remain on the roster because he is the only player here who has been on the team for more than two years. The younger players do look up to him for guidance, as Diontae Johnson mentioned this offseason. I’m predicting Switzer to remain the return man as well.
Tight Ends (3) – Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
Analysis: I think people are overestimating how important blocking ability in a rookie third-string tight end is, even to the Steelers. I don’t find myself at all doubting that Zach Gentry will be on this team. That said, there’s a good chance that he doesn’t play much, and may even spend some time as a healthy scratch if he needs more time to round out his game and is not participating on any special teams units, such as the field goal kicking unit.
Offensive Linemen (9) – Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney, Chukwuma Okorafor, Jerald Hawkins, Derwin Gray
Analysis: I think the offensive line may provide the biggest source of debate as to whom the final two roster spots will go to. And I do think there’s enough talent here to justify once again going with the full complement, though the fact that guys like Derwin Gray can likely be easily retained on the practice squad does make it more tempting to do that and leave a spot open for a fifth inside linebacker or safety. I’m predicting that Feiler will win the right tackle job, with Okorafor his backup. Hawkins and Gray both prove cable of playing both outside and inside. Feiler is the emergency center, as he was already last season, with J.C. Hassenauer ready to be called up from the practice squad.
Defensive Linemen (6) – Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu, Daniel McCullers, Isaiah Buggs
Analysis: I would really like to get Lavon Hooks onto the 53-man roster, but I don’t know that either he or Buggs can sufficiently accommodate the team’s interest in their backup nose tackle, which they might prefer as a bulkier player than their starter in Hargrave.
Inside Linebackers (4) – Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Mark Barron, Tyler Matakevich
Analysis: Not getting five inside linebackers onto the roster is my biggest regret for this prediction piece, but I need to see Ulysees Gilbert III first. He could earn the hat, but it would have to come at the expense of an extra receiver, lineman, or cornerback. Or possibly even the last guy listed next. And no, he’s not going to earn a special teams helmet over Matakevich.
Outside Linebackers (5) – Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Sutton Smith
Analysis: Between Smith and Gilbert, I think Smith is much more likely to earn a roster spot. Inside linebacker has been insulated at the top, where there is more ambiguity at the outside position, and Smith also has more position versatility. Gilbert has the potential to display coveted coverage ability, but pass rush is always king, and that skill also better translates to special teams performance.
Cornerbacks (6) – Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Artie Burns, Justin Layne, Cameron Sutton
Analysis: The name that’s going to jump out is Artie Burns, of course, the rest being no surprise, but really, Burns shouldn’t be a surprise either. He got benched last year, but he’s not the first player to ever get benched. I expect him to be the number one backup on the outside this year, with the rookie Layne not yet ready and Sutton not quite up to the task.
Safeties (4) – Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield
Analysis: The Steelers had six safeties to start the season a year ago, but carrying only four has been much more common, and I think they like this group. They might not play as much six-defensive back dime this year, making it less important as well, but Kameron Kelly is the name I would watch.
Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell
Analysis: I’m not a big believer in the yips, and Boswell has been good for a longer period of time than he was bad. I expect him to bounce back this year, maybe not returning to his 2017 showing, but much more consistent than a year ago, which should prove to be an anomaly. I also have little confidence in his competitor, Matthew Wright.
Punter (1) – Jordan Berry
Analysis: While Ian Berryman has an interesting resume, and I think it will be closer than the kicker competition, Berry remains. The Steelers know him and can work with him.
Long Snapper (1) – Kameron Canaday
Analysis: The team never even brought in a second long snapper last year. This year, their second long snapper is more of a tight end. He already beat out the great Colin Holba his first year here, so they know he’s not going anywhere.
Practice Squad (11)
Trey Edmunds, Tevin Jones, Zach Banner, J.C. Hassenauer, Christian Scotland-Williamson, Lavon Hooks, Dravon Askew-Henry, Marcelis Branch, Kameron Kelly, Ulysees Gilbert III, Tuzar Skipper
What I like about the defensive backs kept is that they’re all capable of playing multiple positions. I think there’s a good chance another receiver is kept over one of them, however. Hooks is in his last year of eligibility, and he’s going to utilize it. I expect good things out of Hassenauer, the AAF alumnus, but they might be lucky to get Banner on the practice squad. He has been claimed off waivers multiple times as a former fourth-round pick, which is probably why they kept him on the 53-man roster all year.