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Keep, Keep, Cut: Cain, Switzer, Blacknall

If you’re like me you’d love the chance to be a General Manager. We all have our opinions on players throughout the draft process and throughout the season of who we would prefer to have on the team or active roster. I thought this might be a fun process to look at a group of players give some background information on each player and see who you would keep.

I’ll give you three players either from a position group or some other roster scenario and you decide which two you will keep and one player to cut. At the end of this process we’ll have a good idea of who you think should be on the roster.

Pass Catchers

Tight Ends

With a healthy Ben Roethlisberger back in the mix the passing game in 2020 will get back to being a formidable part of the offense. The Steelers made additions in free agency and the draft and the cupboard is full of receiving options.

The tight end position added Eric Ebron a player that caught the eye of Mike Tomlin in college. An athletic receiver capable of being an effective pass catcher and red zone threat. Prior to last year, he had at least 53 reception in each season from 2016-2018 and had 13 TD’s in 2018.

He’ll slot in behind Vance McDonald, who had his best year as a Pro in 2018 with 50 receptions and 4 touchdowns. The number three TE will be Zach Gentry, a 2019 draft pick, who struggled to get a helmet on game days but did play in 4 games recording one catch for 4 yards.

The Steelers also have Kevin Rader and Christian Scotland-Williamson on the roster but they would have to really impress to overtake any of the top three.

Wide Receivers
They may be young but there is a lot of talent in this group led by Juju Smith-Schuster. Still just 23 years old he has over 200 receptions and nearly 3,000. He is the final year of his contract and looking to return to his 2018 form where he had 111 receptions and 1,426 yards.

James Washington made a big jump in the offense last year and started to find his footing.  He led the team in receiving yards (735) and yards per catch (16.7). He showed off his contested catch ability on deep ball and may be ready to take that next step forward.

Diontae Johnson showed again how good the Steelers have been at drafting wide receivers. He showed off his route running skills on offense leading to 680 receiving yards on 59 receptions leading the team with 5 TD receptions. He should excel with Big Ben. And don’t forget he was second team All-Pro as a punt returner.

Rounding out the top 4 is 2020 draft pick Chase Claypool.  He gives the Steelers something they have been lacking, size and speed, as well as another receiver well versed at coming down with the contested catch.  He’ll make his biggest impact this season on special team but his roster spot is locked in.

Candidates

The number of receivers will depend on team needs of course but 6 receivers on the active roster is a good number.  Here are a few candidates for the two roster spots.

Deon Cain – He was signed from the Colts practice squad in November and made six game appearances that included 70 snaps on offense.  He took over a role that was filled by an ineffective Johnny Holton and provided some positives in limited opportunities. He tallied five receptions on six targets for 72 yards that included 4 first down conversions.

On the positive side, he made an impact having more yards and reception than Holton on 9 fewer targets. He’s a deep speed target (4.43) for a good deep ball QB filling that role of the over the top threat.

On the negative side, to be the 5th/6th WR on the roster you really need to be a special teams contributor and with one full season on two teams he has played exactly 0 special teams snaps so far. Guys like Holton and Darrius Heyward-Bay were gunners on special teams. What else can Cain do?

Ryan Switzer – An injury knocked him out for half the season in 2019 and he was struggling before that registering only 8 receptions for 27 yards on 81 snaps. Were his struggles the result of trying to play through the injury? Maybe. How he was used on offense was not conducive to making plays with most of his routes being very short. Don’t forget in 2018 with a healthy Switz and healthy Ben they connected for 36 receptions with 15 first downs.

On the positive side, he seems to have a good rapport with Ben and they were on the same page when healthy. He fits the role of the true slot WR who knows how to find open space. He has likely lost the punt returner job but would be a safe number 2 returner on punts and kickoffs.

On the negative side, his average yards per target dropped from 5.8 to 2.5. He was average at best as a return man on punts and kickoff and was only kept there because he hung on to the ball.

Saeed Blacknall – The Steelers filled their roster with a lot of former XFL players and that included Blacknall. Before the XFL he spent time with the Raiders, Dolphins and Cardinals. The Penn State product has a  flair for the big play and that seems to be what is getting him his opportunities.

On the positive side, he is a player who can take the top off of the defense. That is his niche.  The NFL loves speed and he has it with a 4.37 40 at his Pro Day. He has good arm length and size to compete at the NFL level.

On the negative side, he’s fairly unknown and doesn’t offer a heck of lot. He’s similar to Cain in just about all the measurables but is he an improvement?  Like Cain he has limited to no experience on special teams. Even in college he didn’t have any returns.

Time to Choose

On the staff’s 53 man projections they all had Smith-Schuster, Johnson, Washington and Claypool. Dave had Cain and Blacknall but quipped “but I am not married to these last two wide receivers.” Matthew went with Switzer and had Cain as a like choice for the practice squad. Alex kept Cain and Switzer with Blacknall on the PS.

I liked what Cain showed last season and I’m keeping him along with Switzer who was much better when he had Ben tossing it around.

Previous Roster Decisions

Offense

QB – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges (Cut Paxton Lynch)

RB/FB – James Conner, Benny Smell , Anthony McFarland, Derek Watt,  Jaylen Samuels (Cut Trey Edmunds, Kerrith Whyte to PS)

Defense

DL – Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Isaiah Buggs, Chris Wormley, Daniel McCullers (Cut Carlos Davis)

ILB (4) Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Ulysees Gilbert, Robert Spillane (cut Leo Lewis)

OLB (4) – T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Ola Adeniyi, Alex Highsmith

Practice Squad Candidates – Lynch, Davis, Henry Mondeaux, Josiah Coatney, Kerrith Whyte, Trey Edmunds

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