Quarterbacks (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges
Analysis: I have consistently had Hodges making the roster over Paxton Lynch since back in the Spring. Even without ever personally seeing him throw a ball in a Steelers uniform, he has never put it all together in his career and probably never will. Hodges has limitations, but he can play quarterback.
Running Backs (4) – James Conner, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels
Analysis: Injuries to Wendell Smallwood and Kerrith Whyte that robbed them of some very valuable reps in training camp made it all the more easier for me to stick with Samuels as the last running back to make the team. Mike Tomlin recently praised his versatility and the uniqueness of his receiving ability in the running back room as well.
Fullbacks (1) – Derek Watt
Analysis: Isn’t it obvious.
Wide Receivers (6) – JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool, Ryan Switzer, Deon Cain
Analysis: This is a weird one considering the fact that we haven’t really heard much about Deon Cain. But we haven’t heard much about Amara Darboh or any of the other back-end wide receivers, either. At least Cain has some in-game experience with the team, but it actually wouldn’t shock me if they went with five wide receivers.
Tight Ends (3) – Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry
Analysis: This group has bee the most locked-in of the entire offseason. It makes it a lot easier when you do nothing, of course. Some were hopeful that Dax Raymond would flash, but he got injured.
Offensive Linemen (8) – Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Stefen Wisniewski, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, Kevin Dotson
Analysis: If the Steelers do happen to opt for only five wide receivers, it might be to keep nine offensive linemen, which they prefer to do, and if they do, it would probably be for Derwin Gray, even though we know relatively little of what has been going on with the line. Images did appear to indicate that he was running second-team though, and he has guard-tackle flexibility.
Defensive Linemen (6) – Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Isaiah Buggs, Daniel McCullers
Analysis: By and large, this has been a pretty safe group throughout the offseason as well, even if they used a seventh-round pick on Carlos Davis. To expect a late-round rookie with hardly an offseason to make a push, though, was a longshot.
Inside Linebackers (4) – Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Ulysses Gilbert III, Robert Spillane
Analysis: They literally don’t have any more inside linebackers.
Outside Linebackers (5) – Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Alex Highsmith, Jayrone Elliott
Analysis: I’m deviating slightly here and speculating that the Steelers will lean on the more veteran Elliott for the fifth edge rusher spot, given how little experience Adeniyi has, and with Highsmith being a rookie. We’ve heard basically nothing about Tuzar Skipper, and they’ve already shown a willingness to lose him in the past. Perhaps that’s why they brought Elliott back in the first place.
Cornerbacks (5) – Joe Haden, Steve Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne
Analysis: While it would have been nice to hear a little something about Layne that was positive during training camp, there is a ton that went on behind closed doors that we don’t know about. It would be very surprising if he didn’t make the team. It would be equally surprising if somebody like James Pierre did, without the benefit of a preseason, even if he seemed to have a pretty strong camp. Without tape, he should be able to clear waivers and be available on the practice squad.
Safeties (5) – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Curtis Riley, Marcus Allen
Analysis: The Steelers made a few veteran additions in training camp, and I have two of them making the team, Elliott having prior experience in the organization. Riley is the other, the only backup with free safety experience. Allen, meanwhile, will apparently double as emergency linebacker depth. Dangerfield is a cornerstone of the special teams units, in a year in which several were lost, and without a preseason to really evaluate anybody, so they can’t afford to lose him.
Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell
Analysis: There isn’t even another kicker.
Punter (1) – Jordan Berry
Analysis: The Steelers were probably hoping to have a little more of a competition for the punting job, but there’s only so much you can do in a shortened training camp with no preseason to evaluate.
Long Snapper (1) – Kameron Canaday
Analysis: I don’t expect his injury to be an issue.
Practice Squad (16):
QB Paxton Lynch, RB Wendell Smallwood, WR Amara Darboh, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, TE Kevin Rader, OL Derwin Gray, OL J.C. Hassenauer, OL Jarron Jones, DE Henry Mondeaux, DL Carlos Davis, OLB Tuzar Skipper, DB James Pierre, DB Trajan Bandy, S Antoine Brooks, P/K Corliss Waitman, ILB TBD
Putting together a 16-man practice squad, under these conditions, it made me realize that it makes a lot more sense to carry a fourth quarterback. Frankly, you never know what can happen, and you can have a guy in quarantine. At running back, I opt for a veteran. Tomlin said guys like Smallwood were brought in with that in mind. Darboh, Rader, Gray, Hassenauer, and Mondeaux are all guys from the practice squad last year. Davis and Brooks the two rookie draft picks who didn’t make the 53, plus two rookie undrafted defensive backs to boot. There’s so little that we know about a lot of these guys, however. And there’s no way they don’t add another inside linebacker.