The preseason is now in our rearview mirror, with the regular season fast approaching. The final preseason game provided a lot of clarity on certain areas of the roster, with players lower on the totem pole getting the opportunity to sink or swim, while others were able to return from injury. As a reminder, this 53-man roster is a prediction of what I think that the team will do, so if there is a player on here that you’re not happy about, it’s not necessarily because I think he should have made the cut over somebody else.
Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
It didn’t help that he ended up with a turf toe injury, but Joshua Dobbs did not finish the preseason well. Dwayne Haskins has been ahead of him the entire year. but Haskins also pretty much solidified his status as the number three quarterback, rather than the number two, with his struggles in the finale.
Running Back (5): Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, Anthony McFarland, Derek Watt
For the first time all season, I have the Steelers carrying five running backs, with both Ballage and Snell making the cut. The Steelers have proven time and time again that they like Snell even when the fans don’t. His special teams play and work in pass protection are key factors here.
Wide Receiver (5): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
The only player for me who ever really threatened to push for a sixth roster spot here was Cody White, but he didn’t do much in the final preseason game, so this is the group.
Tight End (3): Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
The number three tight end battle was pretty unexciting, as neither Gentry nor Kevin Rader got many opportunities to contribute to the passing game, but the biggest takeaway is that Gentry showed strides as a blocker. That locked him in.
Offensive Line (9): Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, Zach Banner, Dan Moore Jr., Joe Haeg, B.J. Finney, J.C. Hassenauer
As with most positions here, the offensive line stays the same. Rashaad Coward seemed like a lock for much of the offseason, logging a lot of first-team guard snaps when others were not available, but his play never really earned it, and Finney started at right guard for Trai Turner over him in the finale.
Defensive Line (7): Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs
Anybody who has been following this or my writing in general knows that I have contemplated carrying seven defensive linemen for a very long time. There’s just too much depth here not to take advantage of. Davis’ activities on special teams, plus the unclear status of Stephon Tuitt, solidified this for me. Buggs has played too well to be let go, and is certainly better than any 10th defensive back they have as an option right now.
Inside Linebacker (5): Devin Bush, Joe Schobert, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Buddy Johnson
I had to cut some numbers in order to accommodate an extra running back and defensive lineman from my previous roster predictions, and knew one had to come at linebacker. I had a hard time deciding whether it would come inside or outside, but decided it would be on the outside. Allen is a core special teamer, and even if he has a significant injury, he has to be on the initial 53-man roster in order to be able to be designated for return if they were to place him on IR.
Outside Linebacker (5): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram, Jamir Jones
You all get your wish, or at least half of it, as I no longer have Marsh on my 53-man roster prediction. Jones, as I wrote after the game, solidified his roster spot in the finale, while Marsh and Quincy Roche were relatively quiet. Jones has played ahead of Roche throughout the offseason.
Cornerback (4): Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne
The depth could be better here, but they can only work with what they have. Pierre will be the number three cornerback, and Layne would be the first one off the bench in sub-packages if either Pierre or Haden were to get hurt.
Slot (1): Arthur Maulet
The injury of Antoine Brooks Jr. kind of blew up the secondary a bit, given the lack of quality depth, and with Shakur Brown being waived recently, it’s pretty clear to me they only have nine defensive backs they’re comfortable enough to keep right now. Mark Gilbert is the only real possibility, and it would likely come at the expense of Buggs.
Safety (4): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood
This is all they have. Rookie college free agents Donovan Stiner and Lamont Wade, both of whom have struggled to even tackle during the preseason, are the only other safeties. Norwood also turned himself into a slot option, helping to justify their carrying only nine defensive backs in total to start the season.
Kicker: Chris Boswell
There was no meaningful contest of his job.
Punter: Pressley Harvin III
This is a coin flip. Speaking objectively, Jordan Berry is the better punter right now. His superior consistency lends itself to better overall numbers, fewer punts returned in particular, and consistently good hangtime is better than a series of five-second boots matched with ones under four seconds. But I think they’re willing to grow with the rookie.
Long Snapper: Christian Kuntz
I’m far from an expert in evaluating long snappers. Kuntz’s final snap of the night that ended in Chris Boswell’s only missed kick of the preseason may have been slightly inside, but it didn’t give Harvin any issues of setting the ball down, and it’s not like Kameron Canaday has been a bastion of consistency in his snap accuracy. Where Kuntz has the advantage is that he can be a contributor on coverage units, having a linebacker background.
Practice Squad (16)
QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Tony Brooks-James, , WR Anthony Johnson, WR Cody White, TE Kevin Rader, OL Rashaad Coward, OL Chaz Green, DL Henry Mondeaux, , OLB Cassius Marsh, ILB Ulysees Gilbert III, OLB Quincy Roche, CB Mark Gilbert, CB Shakur Brown, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Donovan Stiner, K Mathew Wright
The only changes here from last time is swapping Buggs for Brown, who I had on my previous 53-man roster prediction, and Jaylen Samuels for Cassius Marsh. And yes, to the one commenter who is going to make the exact same comment again and like his own comment, I still have free agent kicker Mathew Wright, who kicked for Boswell in three games last season and made all of his kicks, making the practice squad. There are roster spots to spare when you have 16, and I don’t see any position in dire need of further reinforcement of non-53 players.
Also, you may have noticed, but Alex Kozora and I landed on a dead-on identical final 53-man roster prediction. I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad sign in terms of our accuracy. Dave Bryan wasn’t quite ready to move to seven defensive linemen, our only difference, with him carrying Gilbert as a 10th defensive back, but I think this might be the closest the three of us have ever landed in our final rosters.