With the majority of the starters looking on from the sideline, the Pittsburgh Steelers fell 18-6 to the Carolina Panthers in the preseason finale on Thursday. The Steelers will now look to cut 22 players by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3 in order to finalize their 53-man roster for the 2016 season. Here are some final things to consider before that happens:
Most of the rookies (Stock up)
Artie Burns made quite the debut by defending a pair of passes, one of which actually saved a touchdown. Burns, Pittsburgh's first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has battled injuries throughout training camp and the preseason, so he was expected to play a considerable amount of snaps against Carolina. It is obviously too early to tell if the University of Miami product is the next Darrelle Revis, but Thursday's game was certainly a solid debut. Meanwhile, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave, Pittsburgh's second- and third-round draft picks, respectively, both had solid outings. Tyler Matakevich has a shot to make the 53-man roster as a special teams ace, but my guess is that he ends up on the practice squad. Demarcus Ayers, at this point, appears to be more of a liability than an asset as a returner, so he is likely headed to the practice squad or the unemployment line.
Guys who almost made the team last year - Stock up
Jordan Dangerfield is a certifiable maniac. His aggressiveness caused him to overrun a few plays, but more often than not, he was in position to make tackles. Dangerfield spent last season on the practice squad after failing to make the 53-man roster, but his performance this preseason could make him worthy of a roster spot. Similarly, Eli Rogers would have had a real-world shot at making the team last season had he not broken his foot in training camp. Even then, he was nothing more than a camp darling. Now, it appears as if Rogers, an undrafted free agent, is going to be an integral component of one of the NFL's most dangerous offenses.
Linebackers - Stock up
The Steelers currently have 11 talented linebackers on their roster. Eight of these guys are locks to make the final 53, while three - Matakevich, Steven Johnson, and L.J. Fort - have made Mike Tomlin's job incredibly difficult by performing well throughout the preseason. Johnson is a standout special teams ace, while Matakevich and Fort are both tackling machines who just seem to understand the position. Obviously, the Steelers will not carry 11 linebackers on their roster, so it will be interesting to see how things play out over the next 48 hours.
The defensive philosophy - Stock up
Despite the fact that precisely zero defensive starters played against Carolina, Pittsburgh's defense looked awfully Pittsburgh-y. The Steelers allowed 21 first downs and 351 offensive yards to the Panthers' scrubs, but somehow held Carolina to just 18 points, all of which came from field goals. The Panthers made five trips to the red zone! The fact that Pittsburgh held Carolina without a touchdown would seem to be a statistical anomaly, but its actually pretty standard for Keith Butler's defense. Pittsburgh's defense ranked 21st in the NFL in yards and first downs allowed per game in 2015, but managed to allow just the 11th-fewest points per game. Expect much of the same this season.
Offensive fringe players - Stock down
There won't be many surprises on the roster in this department; the offensive fringe players simply did not do enough to make an impact. In fact, the only real surprise in Pittsburgh's offense is the fact that Rogers has all but secured the No. 3 receiver spot. There might be a surprise or two only the offensive line (B.J. Finney, for example, had a solid camp and preseason), but I would be shocked if we see any major changes anywhere else. Your receivers will almost certainly be Rogers, Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton, while DeAngelo Williams, Daryl Richardson and Fitzgerald Toussaint will be the running backs (until Week 4, when Le'Veon Bell is eligible to return from his suspension).