As the final preseason game against the Detroit Lions approaches, the fate of several members on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster will be decided in the hours to follow. The team will be tasked with trimming their roster down from 80 to 53 players at the conclusion of the preseason, meaning that 27 players will have to be cut from the team. Some of these players may be invited back to be on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, but it still would come as a disappointment for many to not make an active roster for regular season action.
Bleacher Report’s Joe Tansey recently published an article highlighting three players for Pittsburgh that need a strong showing in the preseason finale to secure a roster spot ahead of the regular season. To kick of the list, Tansey mentions WRs Miles Boykin and Steven Sims as players that still need to cement their status for the 53.
“Miles Boykin and Steven Sims are under pressure to perform against Detroit to make the final cut for the 53-man roster,” said Tansey. “Boykin only had one catch in the second preseason game against Jacksonville and Sims has three receptions for 11 yards in August. Both players need to perform better on Sunday to prove they deserve a shot on the roster as the last wide receiver behind Johnson, Claypool, Pickens, and Calvin Austin III.”
Johnson, Claypool, Pickens, and Austin are all locks for the regular season roster as is Gunner Olszewski, who has had a strong training camp and preseason thus far as a receiver and Pittsburgh’s lead kick and punt returner. That likely leaves one spot available on the 53-man roster for another WR, which likely will come down to either Boykin or Sims.
Boykin hasn’t exactly shined as a pass catcher to-date with two receptions for 17 yards in two preseason appearances, but he has been running as one of Pittsburgh’s starting gunners on the punt team, which is a valuable role as a receiver on the back end of the roster. Being a special teams ace could be what gets Boykin a helmet on gameday, with any passing game production being a bonus.
Sims has made some noise this offseason as a multi-faceted weapon, with three catches for 11 yards, two rushes for 49 yards, and one punt return for 38 yards. While Olszewski projects to be the team’s starting kick and punt returner, Sims can bring value in that aspect of the game as well on top of being used in jet sweeps. Boykin may have the slight edge on Sims right now, but a strong showing against the Lions may be enough to turn the tide in this position battle.
The third player listed on Tansey’s article is none other than CB Justin Layne, who has seemingly been on the roster bubble the last few seasons after Pittsburgh elected to take him in the third round out of Michigan State back in 2019.
“Justin Layne put himself in a decent position to stick around for the regular season by making an interception in the second preseason clash with Jacksonville,” Tansey said on Layne. The Steelers are set at the top part of their cornerback depth chart with Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace and Arthur Maulet. Layne needs to have a solid all-around performance to be in good standing on cut day compared to Justin Pierre.”
Layne hasn’t lived up thus far to the draft investment Pittsburgh put into him as a long, wiry CB prospect. He has become a viable special teams contributor in recent seasons, but has failed to carve out a role for himself on defense by just playing 145 total snaps in three seasons according to Pro Football Reference. Layne has struggled to cover quicker WRs due to his lack of quickness and fluidity at the position, making him a liability in most cases. Still, Layne got himself a roster spot last preseason with a couple of timely INTs in preseason play, and recently did the same thing against Jacksonville.
He and Pierre will likely battle it out for the final CB spot on the roster with the job going to the more consistent cover corner as well as the better overall special teams contributor.