With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2022 season.
Unlike last season, which was carried out through a pandemic, things should return much closer to normal this year, including a relocation back to Latrobe, which should help provide us with clearer insights into where people stand. Which is a good thing, considering how many outstanding questions there are both in the starting lineup and within positions.
Position: Fullback/Tight End
Up for Grabs: Roster Spot
In the Mix: Derek Watt, Connor Heyward, Kevin Rader, Jace Sternberger
There are at least two roster spots available for the four players listed in the mix for this mutation of roles. There may be three roster spots. That is yet to be determined, and there’s a good chance it could come down to the wire.
I think the general consensus is that the Steelers will probably keep both veteran fullback and special-teamer Derek Watt and rookie H-back Connor Heyward on the 53-man roster this year. The question is, at whose expense? Will Heyward occupy the roster spot traditionally earmarked for the number three tight end?
If so, then either Kevin Rader or Jace Sternberger is out of a job, or at least a job on the 53-man roster. Both were on the practice squad last year, with Rader moving up to the active roster after Eric Ebron suffered a season-ending injury.
Obviously, how the roster ends up being constructed is going to depend a lot on how much they believe Heyward can handle. If they think he can execute no. 3 tight end duties (which, admittedly, probably isn’t very substantial at all, especially when your top two tight ends can both block), then maybe they don’t keep a true third tight end. After all, in recent years, they’ve mostly dressed only two.
At the same time, we can’t dismiss the possibility that they actually end up keeping only one of Heyward or Watt. Heyward is probably closer to a fullback than a tight end, and they are both special-teamers, so they are definitely the most equivalent players.
Cap considerations really don’t need to factor here. The ultimate factor is what is best for the team. While it would be preferable to keep everybody, there is a limit to how many players you can carry, so tough decisions have to be made.
We shouldn’t assume that Heyward has a roster spot locked up just because of who his big brother is. He is ultimately a sixth-round draft pick without a true position. Plenty of those guys have fallen by the wayside in the past. If he doesn’t constitute part of the Steelers’ ideal 53-man roster, then, well, there’s always hope he can find his way to the practice squad.