The Pittsburgh Steelers used a fifth-round pick on Penn State safety Marcus Allen in 2018 because they liked him a lot. As in, they thought he was a lot better than a fifth-round pick. But they didn’t have a pick in the fourth round that season, and they had already pounced on the safety position in the first round, after having signed two in free agency. Had all of that not happened, they may have been looking at him in the third round.
In his second season, however, Allen was looking at all the action in sweats, as a member of the team’s practice squad. After spending his rookie season in the 53-man roster, albeit almost always as a healthy scratch—he did play in two December games, once on defense—he was surpassed by first-year former undrafted free agent Kameron Kelly, remaining behind Jordan Dangerfield among four safeties.
Of course, the biggest difference better 2018 and 2019 is the fact that they carried six safeties the year before. It started with Sean Davis and Morgan Burnett, with rookie Terrell Edmunds. Dangerfield was there, as was Nat Berhe, with Allen rounding out the group. Berhe did eventually end up on the Reserve/Injured List, but in 2019, the Steelers never had more than four safeties on the roster at any given time, consistently carrying six cornerbacks instead.
“Of course it was tough“, he told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review of not making the 53-man roster this time around, “but I had to get mentally right. Like coach T said, he told me not to be patient – just work while I wait. I took that to heart and really did that — worked every single day”.
Kelly was signed shortly before the 2019 NFL Draft after the Alliance of American Football came to a close. He was one of the top defenders in the upstart league, and among several AAF exiles Pittsburgh signed. He was ultimately one of two AAF players to spend time with the team during the season, the other being center J.C. Hassenauer.
But Kelly was arrested late in the season, and the Steelers moved quickly to release him, calling up Allen from the practice squad. He was on the 53-man roster for the final two games of the season, active for the finale—over, among others, Artie Burns—and did get the opportunity to play on special teams, though he did not record any statistics.
Almost everybody else named above is or will be gone. Burnett was released in April. Berhe was not re-signed. Davis will be departing in free agency. Dangerfield is still around, but for how much longer? Edmunds, of course, is in the starting lineup.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the new face of the position, starting alongside Edmunds, but everything else beyond that is up for grabs. Allen still has the opportunity to carve out a role for himself. After all, it took Dangerfield years to start getting some respect (I’m sorry).