The final roster cuts and the initial 53 man roster were announced earlier today with some surprising names on both lists. The Steelers, and all other teams in the NFL, had to make these cuts with less information than normal without preseason games.
There is an extra layer of protection for these teams in 2020 as the practice squad has been expanded to allow six additional players. These six players don’t have the accrued season limits that are normally associated with the practice squad. Each NFL team can also elect to protect four players each week from being poached by other teams, so the practice squad will have much different utility than normal. Some of the players that were released are expected to remain close to the team on the practice squad to be called up at a moments notice.
NT Tyson Alualu – Stock Up
Tyson Alualu filled in admirably for Stephon Tuitt in 2019, and now looks to continue having a prominent role in the defense. With Javon Hargrave departing in free agency, Alualu and Daniel McCullers were set to compete for the nose tackle job. There wasn’t much doubt, other than the $1.5 million price tag attached to McCullers, that Alualu would serve as the starter, but with McCullers now released by the team Alualu is the clear cut guy. The only other nose tackle listed on the initial 53 man roster is rookie 7th round pick Carlos Davis.
WR Ryan Switzer – Stock Sold?
Ryan Switzer seemed like a lock for the Steelers’ roster. He has a strong rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, handled some of the return duties, and by all accounts was in the best shape of his life. So what went wrong? Likely a combination of Chase Claypool having a strong camp, and Ray-Ray McCloud and Anthony McFarland being return capable. If I had to guess, Switzer will be one of the veterans stashed and protected under the new practice squad rules, but regardless he is on the outside looking in for snaps.
OLB Alex Highsmith – Stock Up
Alex Highsmith seems to have positioned himself as the first man off the bench to spell Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt. The Steelers will need to find ways to limit the starting tandem’s snaps to keep them fresh throughout the season, so Highsmith could realistically see 100+ snaps in 2020.
Highsmith has garnered praise from the likes of Mike Hilton, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Keith Butler. They have consistently mentioned his preparation both physically and mentally coming in as a rookie. Dupree took notice of his hustle running to the ball in practice, and Butler went as far as to say he has “really shown that he belongs in the NFL”.
IOL Stefen Wisniewski – Stock Down
Stefen Wisniewski was brought in as a veteran presence to help fill the void left by Ramon Foster’s retirement. While it wasn’t a big surprise to see Matt Feiler taking over that spot as the starter, what was surprising was who got the first team snaps in the absence of David DeCastro.
With DeCastro injured, a lot of the practice reps went to rookie, Kevin Dotson. Of course, this could just be a concerted effort to get the rookie some practice reps instead of giving them to a league veteran, but Dotson showed out well for himself. Kevin Colbert described his play as “giving some hope”. Dotson seems to have an improved confidence as well as he feels like he “held his own against Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. With DeCastro hoping to come back next week in practice, its difficult to see any kind of role for Stefen Wisniewski.
WR Ray-Ray McCloud – Stock Up
Ray-Ray McCloud was a very recent addition to the Steelers roster being added just over two weeks ago. He was originally a 6th round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills. Since he joined the Steelers he has been mentioned in the media pool reports coming out of training camp, particularly the day when the Steelers ran game speed punt returns and kickoffs. Initially, it seemed like Ray-Ray, if he had any chance, would be vying for the 6th receiver spot. The Steelers only kept five receivers and he was one of them. They must have liked what they saw in the return game – possibly one of those that Danny Smith was “banging on the table” for.
CB Justin Layne – Stock Down
Justin Layne is entering his second year after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft. He ultimately made the 53 man roster, but there has not been many positive reports coming out of training camp on him.
Layne was talked about after the 2019 draft as one of the “steals of the draft”. He is lengthy, standing at 6’3″ which would provide a body type that the Steelers’ secondary is missing. The problem is, he just hasn’t impressed yet.
From Bob Labriola: “The Steelers receivers/quarterback were really targeting Justin Layne throughout the practice. James Washington beat him for a touchdown and grabbed a long ball later”.
For the draft capital spent on the player, it would be reasonable to expect some progression in the pecking order entering his second season, but while Layne fails to impress players like Cameron Sutton and even James Pierre (who has a similar lengthy body type) have their stock trending upwards.