Kozora: 2020 Steelers’ Roster Prediction (Pre-Training Camp Edition)

Things sure feel quite different this season but as is tradition, here’s my pre-training camp Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53 man roster prediction. Not many changes from our first edition, the expanded practice squad is the only notable alteration, and it’ll be hard to update this list without any preseason games. But we’ll see where the summer takes us. For now, my predictions.

Offense (25)

Quarterbacks (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Paxton Lynch

Analysis: No changes here from before. Lynch vs Hodges is the only battle. In a practice setting, Lynch will look better, though with expanded practice squads, the risk of COVID, and the youth in this group, I think the team could end up keeping four on the team. You’ll see that below.

Running Backs (4) – James Conner, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels

Analysis: If I was GM, I’d keep Kerrith Whyte Jr. but Samuels gets the nod for at least on paper, being a bit more versatile. Uncommon for this team to keep four running backs but they repeated investments in the position make it much likelier this season.

Fullback (1) – Derek Watt

Analysis: Watt will be the team’s fullback, replacing Roosevelt Nix.

Wide Receivers (6) –  JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Ryan Switzer, Deon Cain

Analysis: No debate about the top four. Questions for spots five and six, if they even keep six. Feeling more confident about Switzer’s odds of making it. Veterans have a clear leg up in a year without an offseason program, preseason, and a very different-looking training camp. He’s versatile enough, important if someone gets hurt/sick, and he’ll have Roethlisberger’s trust. Don’t overlook that. Strong odds he’ll be on the roster Week 1. Cain is the #6 as a height/weight/speed threat that appeals to the Steelers’ vertical offense.

Tight Ends (3) – Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry

Analysis: Not much to discuss here. Hard to see anyone pushing Gentry for the #3 spot unless the team goes outside the organization, which seems unlikely right now. Have to hope this group stays healthy or there will be problems.

Offensive Tackles (3) – Alejandro Villanueva, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner

Analysis: Giving Okorafor the slight edge in the RT battle to start the year but it’s still a toss-up. Unfortunately, we won’t have much of an opportunity to see this one play out. The team will be working off limited information, too. Such is life, Tomlin would say.

Offensive Center/Guards (5) – David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Matt Feiler, Stefen Wisniewski, Kevin Dotson

Analysis: Feiler still the favorite to start at left guard. If he kicks back out to RT, Wisniewski should step into the lineup. Will an extra/emergency center like JC Hassenauer make it? Perhaps but someone like him could float as the 54th/55th player on the roster throughout each week as opposed to making the initial 53.

Defense (25)

Defensive Ends (4) – Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Wormley, Isaiah Buggs

Analysis: Not much changing with my 2.0 roster prediction. Defensive line feels about as settle as any position. Only question is if Isaiah Buggs can get a hat on gameday.

Nose Tackle (2) – Tyson Alualu, Daniel McCullers

Analysis: Tyson Alualu should open the year as the Steelers’ starting nose tackle. Daniel McCullers will be the backup, proving even in 2020, some things never change.

Outside Linebackers (5) – TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith, Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper

Analysis: One minor alteration to the roster. Tuzar Skipper now part of the squad after being left off before. Don’t know if he’ll be active on gameday but they know just enough about him to hold onto him and promote healthy competition with the three young bucks behind Watt and Dupree.

Inside Linebackers (4) – Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Ulysees Gilbert III, Robert Spillane

Analysis: Hard to debate this one. Unless there’s injury/illness, these will be your four ILBs on the roster.

Cornerbacks (5) – Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Justin Layne

Analysis: Deleting Trajan Bandy. Too tough for a UDFA corner to turn heads with limited chances to do so. Can be shuffled to the practice squad to begin the season.

Safeties (5) – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Tyree Kinnel, Antoine Brooks Jr.

Analysis: Marcus Allen the hard luck loser here. Kinnel will have to prove himself too but has played free safety and his XFL experience should help. With Dangerfield and Brooks Jr. making the roster, Allen just felt redundant.

Special Teams (3)

Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell

Analysis: Boz’s spot not in doubt this summer.

Punter (1) – Jordan Berry

Analysis: Will the Steelers even have two punters in camp? Either way, Berry’s job is safe.

Long Snapper (1) – Kameron Canaday

Analysis: Perhaps the most jacked long snapper in the game.

Gameday Inactives (5)

QB Paxton Lynch
WR Deon Cain
DE Isaiah Buggs
OLB Tuzar Skipper
S Tyree Kinnel

Practice Squad (16)

QB: Devlin Hodges
RB: Kerrith Whyte Jr, Trey Edmunds
WR: Saeed Blacknall
TE: Kevin Radar, Dax Raymond
OL: JC Hassnenauer, Jarron Jones, Christian DiLauro
DL:  Josiah Coatney, Carlos Davis
OLB : Dewayne Hendrix
ILB: Leo Lewis
CB: Trajan Bandy, Alexander Myres
S: John Battle

Analysis: 16 spots to work with here. Fewer restrictions for the practice squad lends itself to more veterans making these rosters but the Steelers simply don’t have a lot of candidates. Keeping four QBs is smart for injury/illness protection, good to have those guys in the building involved in the gameplan if someone needs to be promoted at the last moment while Whyte is someone the team could protect throughout the season and call-up if James Conner went down and they needed a runner (or kick returner). Edmunds is there for ST purposes. Blacknall would’ve been a top sleeper in a normal offseason while Radar and Raymond have interesting, differing skillsets. O-line depth will be critical and yes, I’m leaving Derwin Gray off the list.

Coatney and Davis provide interior depth and guys to keep around to maybe get McCullers off the roster by next year, Hendrix is probably going to play OLB but could also play as a three-tech in sub-packages. Lewis gives them some ILB depth, Bandy is a worthy redshirt, and Battle is a special teamer and depth at safety.

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