I ordinarily post my reaction to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ initial 53-man roster soon after it’s done, but this time I decided to sit on it for a day and let it simmer. In reality, this is probably the closest that we’ve come in years, if not ever, to successfully predicting the roster, at least the initial one, yet there’s still a lot to unpack.
Arguably the biggest surprise is the simple fact that the team elected, at least for the time being, to carry only five wide receivers. Whether they plan to bring one back—Johnny Holton seemed to indicate that he may be re-signed if he clears waivers—or simply believe they have enough depth to re-sign to the practice squad, it remains unclear.
While it’s true that in the past the team has more often kept five than six, that is…well, the past. This is an offense that now plays over 75 percent of its ball with at least three wide receivers on the field at all times. They ran out of 11 personnel the second-most in the league last year, and they used four-and five-receiver sets more than anybody. This is what makes me strongly believe we could see another player added before the season begins.
Nothing else was a particular surprise. I already projected Tuzar Skipper to make the 53-man roster after the third preseason game, and then he proceeded to bolster his resume with two more sacks and two tackles on special teams. Ulysees Gilbert III has played well throughout the preseason and then he blocked a field goal. Rosters: made. And special teams veterans weren’t getting cut.
The other thing I got wrong was Marcus Allen over Jordan Dangerfield, though this was always a coinflip for me. I expected the team to have more of a role in mind for the second-year safety given the way he was talked about during the offseason, but that never materialized. Dangerfield was a mainstay on special teams last year, so with the emergence of Kameron Kelly and the depth at cornerback, with position flexibility, we saw the logical conclusion.
Fred Johnson was deserving of a roster spot, but personally I would have elected to keep a sixth wide receiver over him, and my preference would still be that Eli Rogers was on the roster. I believe that he is a better wide receiver than is Ryan Switzer, who also has yet to make a significant impact on special teams. The third-year man has a lot riding on this season to show that he can put up more efficient numbers on both offense and special teams.
I suppose if there is one more thing I will comment on, it’s at quarterback. Put simply, Devlin Hodges did not show enough, nor have the opportunity to show enough, to justify being kept on the roster. He never faced anything but third-string defenses, and even with drops factored in, his completion percentage and yards per attempt were quite bad. He did not consistently move the offense, either. Joshua Dobbs is flawed, but he did move the ball down the field, and while he didn’t have success scoring this year, we saw him do that in the preseason both in 2017 and in 2018. The offense as a whole was very successful with him at quarterback in the preseason a year ago.