The 2023 NFL Draft has come and gone and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster is largely settled, though history shows there will be someone on the Week One roster who isn’t with the team right now. Still, it’s our first chance to take a crack at predicting the Steelers’ Week One, 53-man roster.
That’s what we’ll do today, an early look at what September could bring. I’ll offer another prediction shortly before training camp in late July.
Offense – 24
Quarterbacks (3) – Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, #3 QB
Analysis: The first two are obvious without the semi-uncertainty of last season. Pickett as the #1, Trubisky as the #2, a reversal of how the 2022 season opened. Pittsburgh has always carried three quarterbacks but you can’t make me put Tanner Morgan on there. I still think they find a more veteran option or even just carry two on the 53. So for now, I’ll use a placeholder.
Running Backs (3) – Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Master Teague
Analysis: Similar to quarterback. Top two names are locked in with #3 being pretty wide open. I’ll go with Dave Bryan’s thinking with Teague, who ran hard and turned heads last summer before going down with an ankle injury. Pittsburgh thought enough of him to bring him back. Teague will battle Anthony McFarland and the field but the Steelers will like Teague’s size.
Fullback (1) – Connor Heyward
Analysis: Heyward could play more of a fullback/H-Back role this season with Derek Watt gone and Darnell Washington’s inclusion. Matt Canada’s offense can use someone like him to catch passes in the flat off boots and play-action. So I’ll include Heyward as a fullback here.
Tight Ends (3) – Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Zach Gentry
Analysis: Keeping the top three plus Heyward gives the Steelers four fullbacks/tight ends total, the same as last season. Gentry’s spot is the most uncertain here, signed to a one-year deal and then seeing a blocker in Washington drafted in the third round. But Pittsburgh’s bully-ball mentality compels them to keep two large tight ends on the 53.
Wide Receivers (6) – Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin, Anthony Miller
Analysis: The top five feel pretty settled though Austin will need to prove his value and worth to the team after missing his entire rookie year. Boykin is a quality special teamer and greatly reduces Dan Chisena’s odds of making the club. Tacking on Miller as the #6 and my 53rd player on the roster but his spot certainly isn’t assured.
Offensive Tackles (3) – Broderick Jones, Dan Moore Jr., Chukwuma Okorafor
Analysis: These three are locks to make it and Jones isn’t even guaranteed to start Week One. Moore will put up a fight. Cutting Le’Raven Clark, a veteran placeholder who is a lot less necessary now that Jones was selected.
Offensive Guards (3) – Isaac Seumalo, James Daniels, Nate Herbig
Analysis: I’ll bet Kevin Dotson is off the roster, flipped for a 2024 Day Three draft pick sometime later in the summer. Leaves Seumalo and Herbig, signed in the offseason, along with Daniels, who should return at his right guard spot. Kendrick Green’s time is also up.
Centers (2) – Mason Cole, Ryan McCollum
Analysis: Cole returns as the team’s starting center, a solid option in the middle even if he isn’t a long-term solution 3-4 years down the road. McCollum latches on as a semi-surprise backup. He has size, length, a bit of NFL experience with a little more than 100 Sunday snaps, and has spent most of his time at center but also saw action at guard early in his Texas A&M and in previous NFL stops. Beyond him, the Steelers are short on center options and McCollum beats out seventh-round pick Spencer Anderson.
DEFENSE – 26
Defensive Ends (3) – Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, DeMarvin Leal
Analysis: I’ll call Leal a defensive end for now though his 2023 role remains unclear. At the least, he can rush the passer from the interior in obvious passing situations, even if he’s only playing at 270-280 pounds. Leal will need to have a better rush plan and translate his athleticism into tangible production. Heyward and Ogunjobi are locks. Isaiahh Loudermilk becomes a noteworthy cut. His run defense hasn’t been good enough and he offers nothing as a pass rusher.
Nose Tackles (3) – Keeanu Benton, Armon Watts, Breiden Fehoko
Analysis: Three names listed here though there’s flexibility with Benton and Watts. Both of those guys can move up and down the line with their size and length. Fehoko is an old-school nose tackle to plug the run. Steelers say goodbye to Montravius Adams but expect continued roster turnover in Omar Khan’s first full year as GM. Pittsburgh bringing in three nose tackles this offseason isn’t a good sign for how they feel about Adams.
EDGE Rushers (5) – T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Nick Herbig, Quincy Roche, David Perales
Analysis: Counting Herbig as an EDGE since the Steelers are set to start him there, though Omar Khan and Andy Weidl have mentioned about him playing inside, too. There is no clear-cut guy here so the Steelers add lots of youth and competition to try and elevate the room. Leal could be in the mix as well. Perales makes the team as a camp darling and productive player at Fresno State who just lacks some size. There’s been several camp darlings here and Perales could be the next.
Inside Linebackers (4) – Cole Holcomb, Mark Robinson, Elandon Roberts, Tanner Muse
Analysis: A completely different room from a year ago with the exception Robinson. Holcomb will start and be the three-down guy. Roberts may have the initial edge over Robinson, but I see Robinson starting by Week One. Muse will be a quality and core special teamer. Depth here is a bit thin though Herbig may float inside to help cover that.
Cornerbacks (6) – Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, Joey Porter Jr., Cory Trice Jr., Arthur Maulet, Chandon Sullivan
Analysis: A pretty crowded room on the outside with two rookies drafted into the fold and Sullivan – a slot guy – signed during draft weekend. Trice beats out James Pierre, who has always had potential but lacked down-to-down consistency. Maulet is the run-downs slot with Sullivan – I guess – seeing work on passing downs. It’s still not ideal. Ahkello Witherspoon is also shown the door.
Safeties (5) – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood
Analysis: Heavy here overall with five safeties and 11 DBs, though Killebrew is just a special teamer. Neal will start at SS on early downs but Kazee will come in to play FS/deep half in passing situations. Norwood is squarely on the bubble after a disappointing sophomore season but there’s enough versatility and potential slot-cover value to hang onto him.
Special Teams – 3
Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell
Analysis: No surprise here. B.T. Potter was signed after the draft but poses a minimal threat.
Punter (1) – Braden Mann
Analysis: Steelers make a switch here from Pressley Harvin III to Mann, claimed off waivers earlier in the offseason. Mann, like Harvin, boasts a big leg but offers more consistency. Last year the Steelers showed full confidence in Harvin to be the guy and while he did improve, it wasn’t enough. He’s now a third-year guy under a GM who didn’t draft him.
Long Snapper (1) – Christian Kuntz
Analysis: Kuntz didn’t have a great 2022 but faces no current competition on the roster. So until that changes, he’s the guy.