My final 53 (who should make it vs. who will make it)

OK Steeler Nation. The preseason is finally over (thank goodness). After a quiet offseason which saw Ben Roethlisberger get a contract extension and DeAngelo Williams get signed as the backup RB, the Latrobe experience and preseason was overall quite forgetful. We saw a polarizing rookie never even make it on the practice field (Senquez Golson), two kickers go down in season ending injuries (Shaun Suisham and Garrett Hartley), two trades (Brandon Boykin and Josh Scobee), and the signing of Michael Vick, which was eventful to say the least. And oh yeah, we saw a bunch of injuries. Maurkice Pouncey, Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons, Mike Mitchell, Bruce Gradkowski, and the list goes on. Oh and one more thing: the opening kickoff game in New England? Tom Brady will be starting for the Patriots while the Steelers will be missing two guys for drug related suspensions (Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant) and might be also missing Stephon Tuitt and Lawrence Timmons to an already beleaguered defense. Other than that, things are just fine! The Steelers finished the preseason 1-4 with the lone win coming against the NFC North champions Green Bay Packers while losing three teams that missed the playoffs last season (Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Minnesota Vikings) and a team that finished 7-8-1 in 2014 (Carolina Panthers). Go figure.

Well, this article/fanpost is about who I think should make the team and who I think will make the team. First, the list of players on the IR/PUP list and the suspended list (which does not count against the 53 active roster until the suspension ends)….and then the givens. You know, the guys who you know, barring something crazy happening from now until Saturday at 4 pm EDT, will definitely be on the final 53. So without further ado, here we go:

Does not count due to IR and PUP:

C Maurkice Pouncey

K Shaun Suisham

OT Mike Adams

K Garrett Hartley

CB Senquez Golson

Suspended list:

RB Le’Veon Bell (2 games)

WR Martavis Bryant (4 games)

The givens:

1. QB Ben Roethlisberger...the most important piece of the puzzle

2. QB Michael Vick….he was signed for a reason: to back up Big Ben.

3. RB DeAngelo Williams….can he be strong for the first two games of the season?

4. FB Will Johnson…should be used more in the offense

5. WR Antonio Brown…got two million dollar "bonus" earlier in the week. The best WR in the NFL

6. WR Markus Wheaton….has the tools to be the best slot receiver in the league and still just 24 years old

7. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey…we will see if Big Ben is right about DHB being the WR2/WR3 for four weeks

8. WR Sammie Coates….the rookie will likely be active much earlier than anticipated.

9. TE Heath Miller…still a steady and reliable weapon, especially in the red zone

10. TE Matt Spaeth…still a solid blocker and underrated pass catcher but will likely only get a handful of chances

11. LT Kelvin Beachum….only question is, will he get a new contract?

12. LG Ramon Foster…in a contract year; likely will be gone after 2015

13. C Cody Wallace…can he replicate what he did for the Steelers in the final month of 2013?

14. RG David DeCastro…All-Pro guard waiting to break out

15. RT Marcus Gilbert…much better than you think.

16. C Doug Legursky …signed as a backup for a reason.

17. DE Cameron Heyward…he got paid like one of the best. Now he has to replicate or exceed the 2014 season stats of 7.5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss

18. DE Stephon Tuitt…will he play in Week 1? And if he does, can he build on the strong final month he displayed in 2014?

19. NT Steve McLendon…in a contract year and the team looked at Phil Taylor and his bad knees just a few days ago, which does not inspire much confidence in McLendon

20. OLB Jarvis Jones...where is the former 2012 SEC Defensive Player of the Year?

21. OLB Arthur Moats…very good rotational guy

22. OLB James Harrison…can still offer something at age 37

23. OLB Alvin "Bud" Dupree…relax folks, remember he is a rookie

24. ILB Lawrence Timmons…will he play in Week 1? And if yes, will his turf toe hinder his trademark explosiveness?

25. ILB Ryan Shazier…has all the tools to be the best ILB in the league

26. ILB Sean Spence…contract year, still has some good burst for a guy whose career almost ended 3 years ago

27. ILB Vince Williams….as long as he’s not asked to go into coverage too often, he will be fine

28. CB Cortez Allen…current contract situation demands he remains on the team…for now…let’s just hope he can replicate his 2013 campaign

29. CB William Gay…in a contract year so I am expecting a huge year

30. CB Brandon Boykin…also in a contract year and was traded for during training camp.

31. CB Antwon Blake….did enough to be safely on this list

32. S Mike Mitchell …current contract situation demands he remains on the team

33. S Will Allen…makes the team on his special teams play and veteran savvy

34. S Shamarko Thomas…still offers something as a special teams guy

35. K Josh Scobee…traded a 6th round pick for him and Jacksonville is picking up part of his salary.

36. LS Greg Warren…11th season with the team. Only Big Ben, Deebo, and Heath Miller can boast a longer or equal tenure

OK, so this means there are 17 more spots left on the roster for Week 1. Who do I think should make it and who do I think will make it? The answers are not going to be the same.

Who do I think should make it?

37. OT Alejandro Villanueva…I am biased because I am an Army veteran too. However, Villanueva has progressed relatively well during this preseason. Also, the Steelers don’t have another good backup tackle on the roster who has outplayed Villanueva. Villanueva is a beneficiary of Mike Adams being on the PUP list until at least Week 6. (Will he make it? 80% yes)

38. G Chris Hubbard …he was on the active roster in 2014, which gives him an edge over most of the backup linemen in camp and preseason. Hubbard was in at center to showcase his position flexibility. While he struggled at times at center, Hubbard can be the emergency center in case injuries occur again to the offensive line. The Steelers are going to have at least 8 offensive linemen on the 53. Hubbard makes the team because he has real game NFL experience and no one else playing the interior line has really shined. Hubbard I expect will be on the team until Maurkice Pouncey comes back (if he comes back in 2015). (Will he make it? 85% yes)

39. TE Jesse James…the local kid and rookie who has struggled in preseason. However, he is 21 and his size cannot be taught. James will not clear waivers because some team will want him on their active roster. I am skeptical if James will ever be given a gameday helmet save for injuries but he could be valuable down the line. Given the circumstances, James makes the roster (Will he make it? 90% yes)

40. DL Cam Thomas…boy, the favorite whipping boy from 2014 is back! At least the Steelers looked at Phil Taylor before deciding his knees are not worth a one-year contract. Look, as long as Thomas is not asked to start and if he can offer a handful of snaps, this will be a solid addition to the final 53. If the Steelers’ porous run defense can be blamed on Cam Thomas, he would be cut already. (Will he make it? 98% yes)

41. DL Daniel McCullers…when he was picked in 2014 Draft, I was elated with joy. I thought McCullers was a late 2nd, mid-3rd round pick that the Steelers stole in the 6th round. However, McCullers hasn’t exactly inspired thoughts of Ted Washington but reminded more of a poor man’s Terrence Cody. Yeah, I went there. However, given the lack of depth on the defensive line and given that McCullers would likely never clear waivers, he is making this team despite his lackluster preseason performance. (Will he make it? 99% yes)

42. DL Leterrius Walton…he also makes the team because the team lacks depth on the defensive line. He definitely has the size to succeed in the NFL. Plus he’s younger than Ethan Hemer and Matt Conrath, both of whom haven’t exactly evoked memories of Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith circa 2008. Plus prior to Walton’s selection this past spring, the last time we drafted a kid from Central Michigan in the 6th round, it worked out pretty well. (Will he make it? 70% yes)

43. LB Howard Jones…So we have our first guy that I want to see make the team that likely won’t. I really like Howard Jones. His freakish athletic ability is stunning. I wonder, how in the world did this guy end up at Shepherd University and not at a big-time school? Still, he is very raw and still does not know the nuances of the position. I doubt he will make the active team but HoJo would likely clear waivers and be placed on the practice squad again. (Will he make it? 20% yes; definitely practice squad if he clears waivers)

44. OLB Anthony Chickillo…I am mixed on Chickillo. One part of thought he was nothing special in Miami. Then again, not too many guys on defense under Al Golden was anything special at Miami. Chickillo lost a lot of weight and showed the Steelers a lot during training camp. I thought he wasn’t anything great in preseason but he could be the special project for Joey Porter than Jordan Zumwalt could have been. I feel the Steelers will take 9 linebackers on the active roster and Chickillo will be the 9th guy. I expect Chickillo, who is the rare 3rd generation NFL player, to be a special teams maven early in his career. (Will he make it? 65% yes)

45. CB Doran Grant…Grant has several things working in his favor. One, he was not horrible during preseason. Two, his draft-mate Senquez Golson is out for the season. Three, he was a 4th round pick, meaning the team is less likely to release him. Four, Grant has good tools to become a solid CB. Remember, the Steelers have a history of turning mid-round picks like Deshea Townsend, Ike Taylor, William Gay, Keenan Lewis, and before 2014, Cortez Allen, into solid cornerbacks. Grant could be the latest in line. (Will he make the team? 90% yes)

46. S Jordan Dangerfield…this guy gets no respect. He was released before camp and he was brought back later. I fully believe if given the opportunity, Dangerfield could have a solid season as a backup safety and special teams coverage guy. Chances are he will get no respect again and will be released again. (Will he make the team? 20% yes)

47. S Robert Golden…this guy was the former captain of the special teams and will be turning only 25 during Week 1. Sure, he does not offer much on defense but he is a strong special teams player who is in a contract year. He is definitely worthy of a roster spot although I doubt he will be named captain again. (Will he make the team? 75% yes)

48. WR Tyler Murphy…And we have a winner for the Martavis Bryant Suspension Opportunity Award! No way the Steelers go into the regular season with just 4 wide receivers. I am not a huge fan of Shakim Phillips or Jarrod West. I feel Murphy can offer some gadget plays early in the season and he can help keep things interesting at least for the first 4 weeks. If he plays well in the first four weeks, the Steelers might have a tough decision about releasing Murphy. That is the best case scenario. The worst case scenario? Murphy is essentially Justin Brown again and is released before the season ends, never to play in the NFL again. (Will he make the team? 40% yes)

49. FB Roosevelt Nix…the final preseason game is often a yawner that is only important to the fringe players. Well, Nix is a guy who took advantage of the final preseason game, turning heads with a beautiful punt block against Carolina in an otherwise lackluster game. As Coach Tomlin stated in his postgame comments, a fullback has to be good at other things given the position and if Nix can be a strong and willing special teams player who can occasionally convert a 3rd and 1, he will have a roster spot…at least until Le’Veon Bell comes back in Week 3. (Will he make the team? 51% yes)

50. P Jordan Berry…OK, the punting competition has been excellent this preseason. Brad Wing showed he can improve from a pedestrian 2014 season. However, Berry was very good as well. I will say I like Berry more but Coach Tomlin has a preference for left-footed punters so Wing has an edge. Either way, I expect both punters to be on a NFL active roster before Week 1. (Will he make the team? 40% yes)

Wait, where is 51, 52, and 53?

Well, here comes the part where I feel guys who shouldn’t make the team likely will.

51. RB/WR Dri Archer…I was very excited when I saw the Steelers draft Archer in 2014. Yeah, there was backlash against it when it happened and I thought that many in the Steeler Nation needed to cool their jets and give Archer a chance before piling on him. Well, it seems the best plays Archer made were in the 2014 preseason. He has not been anything special since and he was actually a healthy scratch several times during the 2014 season. I thought his speed was going to be a huge asset. Well, it seems once again, there is a reason why track guys usually don’t do well in professional football. I feel Archer just can’t succeed on the professional level. He is a below average kick returner who was replaced by Markus Wheaton in that position in 2014 and he has not flashed anything worthwhile on a consistent basis even through preseason against lesser competition. I wish the Steelers would just swallow their pride and release Archer but that is not going to happen. Archer is going to be on the team at least for one more year. I hope Archer proves me wrong and actually does something productive for the Steelers in 2015. (Should he make the team? No. Will he make the team? 95% yes)

52. QB Landry Jones…oh boy. The August whipping boy is back. If Archer can’t succeed in the NFL, Jones flat out can’t play in the NFL. He struggles with accuracy often and he just does not do well, period. I’ve never been a big fan of Oklahoma QBs because I think they are overrated and have overinflated stats (I am looking at you, Sam Bradford; and also remember, Troy Aikman transferred to UCLA and his play at UCLA, not OU, led to his first overall draft selection). I just do not know what the coaching staff sees in Jones to keep him around as long as they have. Good thing is Jones will likely go through the entire 2015 season like he did in 2013 and 2014: inactive on game days. Still, his roster spot could be given to someone who can actually contribute to the team on game days. Oh well. (Should he make the team? Resounding no. Will he make the team? 99% yes)

53. any solid running back that has been released or put on the waiver wire. Jawon Chisholm? Josh Harris? Nope. DeAngelo Williams is going to need a good backup, especially given his injury history. Chisholm and Harris make me appreciate Le’Veon Bell so much more because those guys just are not very good. I would rather take my chances on Fred Jackson for a one-year contract than give either Chisholm or Harris a spot on the final 53.

That is my 53. We will see how off I am on Saturday. What is your 53?

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