2020 has certainly made for a duller summer than normal when it comes to predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Week 1 roster. But I’m back to take another crack at it. The last roster prediction I wrote came prior to camp and though we haven’t been in attendance, this roster will look fairly different from the last version. This is likely to be my last attempt before Saturday’s cutdown unless there’s a major injury or shakeup that would necessitate a change.
As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below and what changes to the roster you’d make.
Quarterbacks (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges
Analysis: Changing here to go with everyone’s favorite Duck. The reports on Lynch haven’t been glowing so far, a time of the year where his skillset should stand out. And though it was just one practice, Lynch didn’t receive any reps Friday night. That certainly doesn’t do him any favors.
Running Backs (4) – James Conner, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels
Analysis: Still leaning Samuels though if you wanted to argue any Steelers potentially getting traded, it’d probably be him for a conditional 7th round pick. Samuels is simply more versatile even if Kerrith Whyte Jr. is the better overall runner. And versatility for a #4 RB wins out in the end.
Fullback (1) – Derek Watt
Analysis: No question here. Just have to hope Watt is on track to play Week 1 following offseason surgery. Team has evidently been careful with him.
Wide Receivers (6) – JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Ryan Switzer, Deon Cain
Analysis: Switzer’s unknown foot injury is the only thing giving me pause when it comes to his roster spot. So long as that ailment doesn’t linger, I think he makes it. Ray-Ray McCloud is giving a late push to the 53 but I think he begins the year on the practice squad. The team can protect him so he can’t be poached. Cain squeaks on the roster but would begin the year as a gameday inactive.
Tight Ends (3) – Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry
Analysis: As chalk and stable as any position throughout the offseason. Kevin Rader is a good blocker but Gentry has reportedly made strides and figures to safely make the roster as the #3 TE.
Offensive Tackles (3) – Alejandro Villanueva, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner
Analysis: Increased odds Okorafor is the Week 1 starter at right tackle but the battle isn’t over yet. Banner saw reps over Okorafor Friday and I believe the team when they say things won’t be decided until right before Week 1. Either way, both guys are making the roster.
Offensive Center/Guards (5) – David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Matt Feiler, Stefen Wisniewski, Kevin Dotson
Analysis: Dotson stays now that he’s avoided serious injury. Wisniewski is your backup swingman in the Finney role while Feiler will begin the year at LG. That’s a done deal.
Defensive Ends (4) – Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Wormley, Isaiah Buggs
Analysis: Like the tight ends, this group has been unchanging since the spring. No reason to even think about changing it now.
Nose Tackle (2) – Tyson Alualu, Daniel McCullers
Analysis: Still expecting Alualu to be the man in the middle. We’ll see if it’s McCullers or Buggs who get the hat on gameday. Of course, Wormley will need to stay healthy to be active. So far, he’s been largely unavailable.
Outside Linebackers (5) – TJ Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith, Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper
Analysis: Tough call on the last OLB. Jayrone Elliott may end up taking Skipper’s spot but I think Skipper hangs onto the active roster spot. Team may not want to risk him going through waivers after losing him last season (that’s why, for example, they held onto Zach Banner on the 53 in 2018). Elliott can be a vet exception on the PS and come up mid-season if need be. The #5 OLB is going to be inactive until/unless there’s an injury anyway.
Elsewhere, Highsmith may really be challenging Adeniyi for #3 duties.
Inside Linebackers (4) – Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Ulysees Gilbert III, Robert Spillane
Analysis: These are your only four ILBs on the entire roster. So these are the four who are making it, not that there was ever really any doubt.
Cornerbacks (5) – Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Justin Layne
Analysis: Ditto with the cornerbacks. No changes needed here.
Safeties (5) – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Curtis Riley, Jordan Dangerfield, Marcus Allen
Analysis: Biggest revamp of my roster comes at safety. Riley and Allen on the team. Riley looks to be the top backup at both safety spots while Allen has reportedly had a good camp and showing off some ILB versatility, even if it would take a lot for him to get thrust into that role. But he has a leg up on a more limited rookie like Antoine Brooks, playing catchup after a lost spring.
Special Teams (3)
Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell
Analysis: No questions about Boswell’s roster spot this time.
Punter (1) – Jordan Berry
Analysis: Lots of fans want to push Berry out the door. Steelers simply haven’t added the competition to do it unless they go outside the organization, which I find unlikely at this point.
Long Snapper (1) – Kameron Canaday
Analysis: Barring his knee injury being more severe than we know it, Canaday is the guy.
Gameday Inactives (5)
QB Devlin Hodges
WR Deon Cain
DE Isaiah Buggs
OLB Tuzar Skipper
S Marcus Allen
Practice Squad (16)
QB: Paxton Lynch
RB: Kerrith Whyte Jr
WR: Ray-Ray McCloud, Amara Darboh
TE: Kevin Rader
OL: JC Hassnenauer, Derwin Gray, Christian DiLauro
DL: Carlos Davis, Henry Mondeaux, Cavon Walker
OLB : Jayrone Elliott
CB: Trajan Bandy, James Pierre
S: Antoine Brooks Jr.
K/P: Corliss Waitman
Analysis: Some clear changes here too. Still believe the team will keep four quarterbacks. Lynch occupies that spot now. Whyte Jr. can be called up at a moment’s notice. Ditto with McCloud. Rader’s solid blocking is worth keeping around as is quality offensive line depth. Welcome back Gray, whose been running 2nd team throughout camp. DiLauro has been working at LT.
Finally remembered to put Mondeaux on one of these. He’ll join 7th round pick Carlos Davis and UDFA Cavon Walker, whose a little more professionally experienced/ready. Important for this season. Elliott on the PS along with Bandy and Pierre, the latter whose seemed to impress this summer. Brooks Jr. loses out to Allen.
And I still have Waitman on the PS too. Three of the four remaining UDFAs on here because they’ve lasted this long so that must mean something. However, don’t be surprised if one of the more veteran, established kicker/punters the team has been working out (Richie Leone, Sergio Castillo) ends up signing and beats out Waitman on the taxi squad. Having someone to fill both roles is important in the COVID era.