Heitritter: Steelers 53 Man Roster Prediction

With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fourth and final preseason game of 2021 now behind us and the initial 53-man roster due by 4:00pm EST on Tuesday, I have followed suit with my fellow contributors here at Steelers Depot to submit my final 53-man roster prediction for the team this year. Along with the names that make the roster. I have included some analysis underneath each position group to provide my thoughts and reasoning.

(Ed Note: This was submitted before the Canaday/Berry news)

Offense (25)

Quarterbacks (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, and Dwayne Haskins

Analysis: No surprises here to start. Roethlisberger is the clear starter with Rudolph as the #2 and Haskins sits the bench and takes a redshirt year in 2021.

Running Backs (4): – Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr., and Kalen Ballage

Analysis: Harris is the clear bell-cow back in an offense hoping to revamp its rushing attack in 2021. McFarland factors in as a change-of-pace back and potential jet motion weapon in OC Matt Canada’s offensive system. Ballage and Snell both can contribute on special teams and duke it out to give Harris a breather on early downs and near the goal line. Snell is a Tomlin guy, but my nod goes to Ballage earning the early-down backup role to start the season.

Fullback (1) – Derek Watt

Analysis: As you would expect, Watt is the only name to be considered here. Hopefully contributes more this season in the new offensive system and provides stellar special teams play.

Wide Receivers (5) – JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud

Analysis: I wanted to put Cody White in here as a sixth receiver, but unless we see an unexpected trade involving James Washington, White is likely relegated to the practice squad due to a number crunch at other positions.

Tight Ends (3) – Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, and Kevin Rader

Analysis: The first two names were locks with the third and final spot up for grabs. Despite improved play from Zach Gentry, Rader is a better run blocker and special teams’ contributor, so he wins the job.

Offensive Linemen (9) – Trai Tuner, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Joe Haeg, Dan Moore Jr., J.C. Hassenauer, and B.J. Finney

Analysis: I wrote the report on G Rashaad Coward when he signed with Pittsburgh this offseason and recognized he had a long way to go before being considered a reliable player up front. While I think he has taken strides, Finney has outplayed him this preseason and offers more position versatility. Coward can likely be signed to the practice squad should he clear waivers.

Defense (25)

Defensive Linemen (7) – Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs, and Isaiahh Loudermilk

Analysis: I’m calling my shot here that this is the year that Pittsburgh keeps seven defensive linemen due to the talent in the room compared to other position groups as well as the concern around whether or not Stephon Tuitt will be ready to start the season having not participated thus far in training camp. There is a chance either Buggs or Davis is cut to keep an extra outside linebacker, but I’ll hedge they keep them on the roster and can cut one once Tuitt returns to play.

Inside Linebackers (5) – Joe Schobert, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson, and Marcus Allen

Analysis: I was tempted to cut Allen here assuming that Pittsburgh would want to keep five outside linebackers, but Allen has flashed at times this preseason and provides quality special teams play. He can be that hybrid linebacker/box safety and allow the team to take Buddy Johnson’s development slowly before forcing him into action.

Outside Linebackers (4) – T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram, Jamir Jones

Analysis: I hardly knew anything about Jamir Jones a couple of weeks ago, but the guy has been a force on the field this preseason. He has made an impact getting to the QB as a pass rusher, been consistent as a run defender, and leads the team in special teams tackles this preseason. His special teams’ contribution does enough to push Cassius Marsh off the roster and his superior run defense relegates six-round rookie Quincy Roche to the practice squad as the more well-rounded player.

Cornerbacks (5) – Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne, Arthur Maulet

Analysis: I am in the camp that no one else on the CB depth chart currently deserves a roster spot outside of the names listed. I am guessing that Pittsburgh is in the same boat, and likely will be combing through waivers after cut downs to sign a true nickel defender. My vote would be acquiring my draft crush Kary Vincent Jr. either off waivers or a potential player exchange.

Safeties (4) – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmonds, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood

Analysis: I wish I could place my guy Donovan Stiner here, but the team invested draft capital in Norwood and his play improved over the last two preseason games. Norwood also boasts more positional versatility and Stiner likely makes the practice squad. Still, I expect the team to search through waivers for a replacement to Norwood after roster cuts.

Specialists (3)

Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell

Analysis: Next.

Punter (1) – Pressley Harvin III

Analysis: The team elects to move forward with the player they invested draft capital in this spring and ST Coordinator Danny Smith likely pounded the table for. With more experience, Harvin could develop into a mainstay in Pittsburgh with the leg he has.

Long Snapper (1) – Christian Kuntz

Analysis: The fact that they didn’t cut Kuntz after trimming the roster from 90 to 85 and then to 80 signaled there was actually a competition between he and Kameron Canady. Given the team’s affinity with keeping him around the team might mean he has done enough to win the job.

What are your thoughts on my final 53-man roster prediction? Did I have the right names picked given the state of the team? Where do you think I went wrong? What would you do it you had to make the decision? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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