With just one preseason game remaining, and 10 players already cut, we’re getting closer and closer to defining the Steelers’ 53-man roster for the upcoming season. The biggest change since last time out was Tuesday’s surprise waiving of Antoine Brooks Jr., whom probably everyone on the outside had as a roster lock. That complicates the numbers in the secondary, but not enough to reduce it.
Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
While it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Joshua Dobbs is not going to make the 53-man roster, it also remains curious that Mason Rudolph is getting all second-team work ahead of Dwayne Haskins, even as Mike Tomlin tried to suggest that there’s nothing to read into that.
Running Back (4): Najee Harris, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland, Derek Watt
With Benny Snell continuing to miss time and Ballage coming back and playing well—and contributing on special teams—I’m sticking with my three halfbacks, but swapping Snell for Ballage. I think he’s shown enough to make the team. Now it’s just a matter of whether or not Snell does as well.
Wide Receiver (5): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
There are just too many positions on defense that scream out for an extra defender that I struggle to add a sixth wide receiver. It’s obvious that they like Cody White, but I think they’ll reason that they can keep him on the practice squad.
Tight End (3): Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
Still not much in the way of a showcase for the young tight ends, but Gentry did impress me with his blocking last week, or at least the development of his blocking. The only thing keeping him from potentially making the team was whether or not he could be a viable possibility to throw a block every now and then. Having shown that, I’m more confident he’ll retain his roster spot over Kevin Rader.
Offensive Line (9): Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, Zach Banner, Dan Moore Jr., Joe Haeg, B.J. Finney, J.C. Hassenauer
I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing this, but I’m beginning to think that both Finney and Hassenauer end up making the team, at Rashaad Coward’s expense. Hassenauer has definitely shown improvement, but they have more familiarity with Finney, and he can play center.
Defensive Line (6): Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Carlos Davis
I am extremely close to adding a seventh defensive lineman to keep Isaiah Buggs after watching Carlos Davis running down kicks, but I just can’t bring myself to bump Marcus Allen or Jamir Jones (or Cassius Marsh) off the 53-man roster just yet, and I am yet to be convinced that the Steelers would cut Loudermilk.
Inside Linebacker (5): Devin Bush, Joe Schobert, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Buddy Johnson
The top three are set, obviously. Allen is a core special teams player and a guy that they have obviously liked since day one, even after he didn’t make the initial 53-man roster in 2019. It’s rare for a player to go 53 -> practice squad -> 53 the way he has, which shows his staying power. And Buddy Johnson, he hasn’t had an overly active preseason, but as a fourth-round pick, I think he’s shown enough to stick.
Outside Linebacker (5): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram, Cassius Marsh, Jamir Jones
Many want to see Cassius Marsh not make the team, at least not at the expense of Quincy Roche (or Jamir Jones), but I need the team to show me something that convinces me they would actually lean toward cutting him before I remove him from my prediction list of what I think the team will do. Maybe after the Carolina game I’ll have finally seen enough to believe it’s possible.
Cornerback (4): Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne
Justin Layne’s roster spot was solidified, if it needed solidifying, with the waiving of Brooks. While he has his ugly reps, he has also offered some splash play this preseason, and in practice, as well.
Slot (2): Arthur Maulet, Shakur Brown
I toyed around with what to do with Brooks’ roster spot. For now, at least, I landed on adding the rookie Shakur Brown, even though he had a rough fourth quarter. But he’s the only other real slot guy, running third-team there (excluding Sutton), and he’s been on special teams as well.
Safety (4): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood
This position seems to have been solidified for some time, though with Brooks gone, I considered adding Donovan Stiner to the list. It’s equally likely that someone who isn’t currently on the 80-man roster will be here by the time the Steelers travel to Buffalo.
Kicker: Chris Boswell
This competition was won before it began.
Punter: Pressley Harvin III
I still think the push-comes-to-shove moment will ultimately favor the rookie draft pick over the incumbent who has had half a decade to improve his consistency. Harvin simply offers much more upside than Jordan Berry.
Long Snapper: Christian Kuntz
Given that there is nothing actually at stake for me here in being wrong, I’m going to go out on a limb, and predict that incumbent Kameron Canaday will be unseated here. Truth be told, he has never been better than a middling long snapper, and he’s had some shaky snaps that can be improve upon. Kuntz is also more likely to add something as a coverage player, having also played linebacker.
Practice Squad (16)
QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Tony Brooks-James, RB Jaylen Samuels, WR Anthony Johnson, WR Cody White, TE Kevin Rader, OL Rashaad Coward, OL Chaz Green, DL Isaiah Buggs, DL Henry Mondeaux, ILB Ulysees Gilbert III, OLB Quincy Roche, CB Mark Gilbert, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Donovan Stiner, K Mathew Wright
A couple of changes, since there were changes in my 53-man roster. I have Finney and Brown making it now, so Coward goes to the practice squad from the 53, and I’ve added Mark Gilbert after previously having him not making it at all. And I’m still calling my shot that they add kicker Mathew Wright, who kicked in three games for them last season.