The Pittsburgh Steelers, perhaps more than most teams, like to look at alternatives to the usual cycle of acquiring players to flesh out a 90-man roster. They were the team over the previous two seasons to most take advantage of the start-up professional leagues that failed. Pittsburgh signed a number of players from the AAF in 2019, and from the XFL in 2020. Some of them remain with the team — and have even started games.
This year, with no start-up league, one of the avenues they have explored is using the Pro Day circuit to sign players lost in the shuffle a year ago. Players who went undrafted and unsigned, and received permission to work out at their alma mater or a nearby school.
The Steelers have signed several players this offseason following Pro Day workouts. That number runs up to five now. None of them are, almost necessarily, names that will be overly familiar. But you never know what kind of contributor you may find. Former fullback Will Johnson was first signed this way out of West Virginia after he missed out on the undrafted free agent cycle in 2011 during the lockout.
The five players signed include two wide receivers in Tyler Simmons out of Georgia and Mathew Sexton from Eastern Michigan, who participated in Michigan State’s Pro Day. Defensively, they have signed inside linebacker Jarvis Miller out of Massachusetts, outside linebacker Jamir Jones out of Notre Dame — brother of tackle and former XFL signing Jaron Jones — and defensive lineman T.J. Carter out of Kentucky.
Not all of them when undrafted and unsigned last year, though. Carter, for example, was signed by the Arizona Cardinals originally, and later spent some time with the New Orleans Saints. Kentucky invited him to work out this year after New Orleans cut him heading into training camp, when COVID-19 protocols mandated reductions in roster size.
Teams do occasionally find contributors using these tertiary means of player acquisition. Perhaps most notable from the more recent cycles would be reserve interior offensive lineman J.C. Hassenauer, a former undrafted Alabama alumnus signed in 2019 after playing for the Birmingham Iron in the XFL. He started multiple games in 2020 for the Steelers.
A few of the players that they signed from the XFL last year spent time on the practice squad and remain with the team. Those include the aforementioned Jones, fellow lineman Anthony Coyle, and linebacker/long snapper Christian Kuntz. Kameron Kelly played for the Steelers in 2019 after Pittsburgh signed him from the AAF, even starting in the opener. But the Steelers released him after he was arrested during the season.
In other words, you never know what you’ll find. Maybe one of these guys turns into a full-time starter someday. Maybe they provide quality depth. It’s just one more avenue to explore to cover all of your bases in putting together a roster.