Given that we already have one preseason game under our belts, I suppose it’s time that I take my first stab of the offseason of predicting the 53-man roster. A lot has changed already since even OTAs, so let’s get right into it. As always, I’ve opted not to review the predictions of my colleagues so as not to create a bias in my own thoughts. As a general rule, I let the now be my guide, without trying to make bold predictions about how I think certain players will perform over the next few weeks.
Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
This appears to be where the position is headed, as mush as Joshua Dobbs is putting up a valiant effort. It would take quite a lot to unseat Rudolph from a roster spot, and one can’t deny that Haskins has been showing that he deserves a place. Whether that’s as the two or the three is another conversation.
Running Back (4): Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Derek Watt
This was the most difficult decision that I had to make, and it’s also the one I left for last. I already had Kalen Ballage making the team as a fifth running back, and he still had a great chance of making it, but his injury right now is hurting his chances. Snell, also injured, isn’t entirely invulnerable either, but he is also a special teamer.
Wide Receiver (5): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
It’s too early in the process for me to see anybody being added or subtracted from this group. Considering the fact that they didn’t do anything significant to address the position in the offseason, it’s not exactly a shock that it’s the same as last year, but a guy like Mathew Sexton can sneak in as a returner, or Anthony Johnson as a special teamer.
Tight End (3): Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
I’m still waiting to see more, but I’m very intrigued to see it. it seems as though both Gentry and Kevin Rader have stepped things up from when we last saw them (which, frankly, was 2019 for all intents and purposes). For now, I’m sticking with the former draft pick who has clearly made strides entering year three, but Rader is a guy to keep an eye on, and a lock for the practice squad again at worst.
Offensive Line (9): Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, Zach Banner, Dan Moore Jr., Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, B.J. Finney
I think the first eight are locks at this point, given all the love Coward has gotten. But when it comes to the backup center, it’s not much better than a toss-up right now. And I’m not even sure I’m right going with Finney over J.C. Hassenauer. But he does offer more as a guard then Hassenauer does.
Defensive Line (6): Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Carlos Davis
Another difficult decision here, on the deepest position of the roster. Who’s the odd man out? We didn’t even really get to consider Henry Mondeaux or Abdullah Anderson. Despite playing well, Isaiah Buggs is currently on the outside looking in for me, but it wouldn’t shock me if, at the end of the day, it ends up being Wormley.
Inside Linebacker (5): Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Ulysees Gilbert III, Marcus Allen, Buddy Johnson
Ulysees Gilbert can either be the first one off the bench, or the last one off the roster. He appears to be healthy now, but he needs to clean up his performance. Allen is a lock as a special teamer, and Johnson as a rookie fourth-rounder will get preference.
Outside Linebacker (5): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram, Cassius Marsh, Jamir Jones
This was a tough one, and at the end of the day, the fifth outside linebacker may have to go to accommodate an extra body at another position like running back. For now, I’m going with Jones over rookie sixth-round pick Quincy Roche, the only draft pick I don’t have making the team. Importantly, Jones played all but one snap on the return and coverage units last week.
Cornerback (4): Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne
It’s too early to write off Justin Layne right now, if we’re really trying to predict what we think the Steelers will do, which is the name of the game for me. I’m not seeing much progress, but he’s the number four here until he isn’t.
Slot (2): Antoine Brooks Jr., Arthur Maulet
Though he’s sidelined with an injury, Brooks looked like the slot defender last week, and that was enough for me. The veteran Maulet…looked like he could use some more preseason reps. But there isn’t anybody else, really. At least not yet. Shakur Brown could make a push, and he did make some plays on special teams. But I can’t make that jump yet. Maybe after another good week or two.
Safety (4): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood
Donovan Stiner and Lamont Wade are the only other safeties who aren’t in the slot. Stiner did have an interception, but it’s pretty clear the team likes Norwood a fair bit already, and they also value the versatility that they haven’t asked him to display yet. We already know from college and training camp that he can take the ball away.
Kicker: Chris Boswell
My apologies to Sam Sloman. Frankly, the Lions just waived Mathew Wright. I’d like the Steelers to bring him back.
Punter: Pressley Harvin III
If this was even going to be close, it was going to be Harvin. After his very strong first preseason, there’s no reason to look back right now.
Long Snapper: Kameron Canaday
Christian Kuntz got all of the long snapper reps in the first preseason game, but I don’t see them making a switch. Then again, would anybody even know?
Practice Squad (16)
QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Kalen Ballage, RB Jaylen Samuels, WR Anthony Johnson, WR Cody White, TE Kevin Rader, OL J.C. Hassenauer, OL Chaz Green, DL Isaiah Buggs, DL Henry Mondeaux, ILB Calvin Bundage, OLB Quincy Roche, CB Shakur Brown, S Donovan Stiner, K Mathew Wright
I think most of these are self-explanatory, and with 16 players it’s a lot easier to justify a fourth quarterback and a specialist, something they did last year. They keep a running back on the practice squad even when they have four halfbacks, so two is reasonable, and don’t be surprised if they end up with a third wide receiver. Johnson and White were on the squad last year. Green could be a placeholder tackle-capable lineman. I went with Brown over Stephen Denmark due to needing another slot-capable guy in the mix. Wright kicked three games for the Steelers last year and, as mentioned, is available as of this writing.
And yeah, I have Jaylen Samuels there. They like him more than you do.