Now with half of the preseason out of the way, it’s time to take another stab of predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-man roster for the upcoming season. One major change that occurred since last time out was the acquisition of linebacker Joe Schobert. While that will change the names on the inside, though, I don’t have that changing the number. We’re also still waiting for more movement before I bite the bullet and make predictions that need more evidence first.
Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
Joshua Dobbs hasn’t done anything miraculous, even though he’s generally played well, especially in training camp. But he had a rough outing in the Steelers’ last preseason game. He might not even play on Saturday. The only question is whether Rudolph or Haskins will be the backup.
Running Back (4): Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Derek Watt
For the time being, I still have the Steelers carrying only three halfbacks. Kalen Ballage missed their last preseason game, and will have to show more in order to earn a roster spot, but that is very much within the realm of possibility. He remains my 54th player, so to speak.
Wide Receiver (5): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
Again, still too early for movement, at least enough that would justify predicting a change, but there are some wide receivers pushing to get onto the roster, like Cody White and Anthony Johnson, who players who were with the team on the practice squad last year.
Tight End (3): Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
Another week, and another unspectacular tight end showing. We continue to wait to experience the full Gentryfication, but I still have him making the roster with more offensive upside. Still, Kevin Rader’s special teams value alone will make him a hard cut, but given that they haven’t even been dressing the third tight end, I’m not sure it matters.
Offensive Line (9): Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, Zach Banner, Dan Moore Jr., Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, J.C. Hassenauer
And we mark our first change. I swap out B.J. Finney for J.C. Hassenauer, who has been listed as the first-team center since the start of training camp (even though he’s not). The past week has made it more and more clear that they do view him ahead of Finney.
Defensive Line (6): Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Carlos Davis
I feel bad for Isaiah Buggs, because it’s just hard for him to crack this roster given the depth that the Steelers have on the defensive line. I even like the guys that they let go, Calvin Taylor and Abdullah Anderson, though Taylor’s departure was due to injury.
Inside Linebacker (5): Devin Bush, Joe Schobert, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Buddy Johnson
Now for our second change, and this is a major one. The Steelers traded for Joe Schobert, a three-down-capable defense-setting inside linebacker who will obviously relegate Spillane to backup duty. The domino effect is Ulysees Gilbert III being bumped off the roster and down to the practice squad.
Outside Linebacker (5): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram, Cassius Marsh, Jamir Jones
For the time being, I’m sticking to my guns here and predicting that Jamir Jones makes the 53-man roster. He has flashed as a pass rusher, and has logged a lot of special teams work, racking up two tackles last week. Quincy Roche, the rookie sixth-round pick, is exposed to waivers as a result.
Cornerback (4): Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne
People got excited about Stephen Denmark and the possibility of his knocking Justin Layne off the roster, but he was part of the first wave of roster cuts, and they’re running out of viable challengers. He has been making some splash plays, which has aided his cause.
Slot (2): Antoine Brooks Jr., Arthur Maulet
Up to this point, the Steelers haven’t used anybody else in the slot with the first-team unit. But though they may be listed as nickel defenders, it’s looking like James Pierre may be the fifth defensive back on the field.
Safety (4): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood
The versatility of Brooks and Maulet make this secondary interesting, as both can also play safety, if necessary. But they do seem to like Killebrew, and clearly Norwood, the rookie seventh-round pick, has caught their eye, even if his tackling leaves something to be desired.
Kicker: Chris Boswell
Do you even want a blurb here?
Punter: Pressley Harvin III
Danny Smith may deny that draft status plays a role in this decision—and to his credit, he went with Kameron Canaday over sixth-round long snapper Colin Holba—but any tie is going to Harvin.
Long Snapper: Kameron Canaday
While the Steelers have given Christian Kuntz the opportunity to take in-game reps here, I’m not sure he stands much of a chance of winning the job.
Practice Squad (16)
QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Tony Brooks-James, RB Jaylen Samuels, WR Anthony Johnson, WR Cody White, TE Kevin Rader, OL B.J. Finney, OL Chaz Green, DL Isaiah Buggs, DL Henry Mondeaux, ILB Ulysees Gilbert III, OLB Quincy Roche, CB Shakur Brown, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Donovan Stiner, K Mathew Wright
Pretty sure nobody is going to pat me on the back for putting Jaylen Samuels on the practice squad over Kalen Ballage, but I feel like if Ballage doesn’t make the 53-man roster, then they’re not going to keep him around—and he also stands a better chance of being claimed off waivers. The only changes from last time are swapping out Calvin Bundage for Gilbert, and actually having 16 practice squad members, with Pitts being the addition in that regard.