The start of the regular season is less than three weeks away for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just as prior to the NFL draft, experts and the bloggers alike are churning out their projections for the players making the Steelers’ final 53-man roster. Most, though, don’t tackle the in-depth aspect, nor the 10 or 11-man practice squad — but this article will.
The only cut-down day for the NFL follows the last preseason game — it’s quickly approaching and less than two weeks away. While many current Steelers are stone-cold locks, others are sitting atop the roster bubble. Ninety players are currently on the roster, but 30 of them never were viewed as having a legit shot at making the final roster in the first place. These players were mainly hoping to impress enough that they’d be viewed as development-worthy and thereby land on the practice squad. In my opinion, a minimum of 50 players have locked down their roster spots, and another handful are locks to make the practice squad.
Every season there’s a surprise player who makes the roster — typically a player who also draws the ire of armchair Steelers’ GMs. Let’s look at how the projected, final roster and practice squad shake out:
Ben Roethlisberger: Steelers fans are keeping their collective fingers crossed that he can stay healthy in the next preseason game.
Landry Jones: The Jones detractors will wait another year for his departure from the Steelers. Given the struggles of the other two quarterbacks, Jones was the only realistic choice to back up Big Ben.
Mason Rudolph: If Rudolph was a sixth-rounder would he make the team? Game-day inactive.
Tight Ends (6/53)
Vance McDonald: McDonald has had a myriad of injuries throughout his career but he can be a game-changer when he gets onto the field.
Jesse James: James is everything that McDonald is not. Slow, a mediocre blocker, great hands and not a health risk.
Bucky Hodges: The injury to Xavier Grimble opens the door for the athletic move tight end. Pittsburgh could stash Grimble on injured reserve which would pave the way for Hodges.
Running Backs / Fullbacks (10/53)
Le’Veon Bell: Bell is currently participating in his own training camp away from the team. The 2018 season will be his farewell tour — will it be a successful one?
James Conner: Conner has shown improvement in his pass-catching game and he’s busting arm tackles left and right. He looks to be shaping up as a competent backup. His poor pass-blocking skills will limit his time on the field and the coaches’ trust.
Fitzgerald Toussaint: Rookie Jaylen Samuels has shown next to nothing so far this preseason while Toussaint has shown his versatility on offense and special teams.
Roosevelt Nix: Will he see more than 181 snaps on offense?
Wide Receivers (16/53)
Antonio Brown: Will take the field looking to claim a sixth straight Pro Bowl selection.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: JuJu outperformed everyone’s expectations last season and has shined again this preseason. The main question is how deep into the season it’ll be before he tops the 1000-yard mark.
James Washington: Washington has made one fantastic catch after another this preseason. What will his role be and how often will he see the field?
Darrius Heyward-Bey: DHB continues his Steelers career as a special-teams ace (can you believe this is his fifth season?).
Damoun Patterson: Patterson has to continue his ascent up the depth chart. He’s just depth for the time being and he’ll be a game-day inactive.
Marcus Tucker: Solid special-teams value while serving as the backup slot wideout.
Offensive Line (25/53)
Alejandro Villanueva: AV will never be confused to with a top-notch LT in the NFL, but neither is he a liability.
Ramon Foster: 2018 might well be his last season with the Steelers. Keep your fingers crossed that he stays healthy and doesn’t continue his poor 2017 form.
Maurkice Pouncey: One of the top-5 consistent and versatile centers in the league.
David DeCastro: Arguably the top right guard in the NFL.
Marcus Gilbert: Has something to prove this year after serving a suspension last season and then dealing with injuries afterwards.
B.J. Finney: The top interior backup lineman for Pittsburgh is scheduled to become a free agent in 2018. Will he prove enough in 2018 to earn an extension and compete for a starting role?
Chukwuma Okorafor: The 2018 rookie has looked better than expected so far, but has that been enough to warrant being promoted to Swing Tackle?
Matt Feiler: Many BTSC fans thought, heading into training camp, he’d compete for Swing Tackle duties, but this hasn’t been the case. Game-day inactive.
To be determined: Okorafor has been OK, but not solid enough to be handed the Swing Tackle position in 2018. Pitt ends up trading for or signing a final-cut offensive tackle to man the Swing Tackle position.
Chris Boswell: The only question about Boswell is whether he’ll land a long-term extension before the start of the season.
Kameron Canaday: Yup, he’s a long snapper.
Jordan Berry: Berry is on shaky ground with his poor performance against the Green Bay Packers — but his competition is worse. There’s a reason why journeyman Matt Wile has 12 punts in his 3-year NFL career (is Wile a punter or a kicker?).
Joe Haden: Haden hasn’t been, nor resembled a Pro Bowler, since his arrival — will he be able to return to that form?
Artie Burns: Training camp reports have the oft-maligned Burns with a solid offseason after grading out as Pro Football Focus’ forty-sixth overall cornerback (above average) in the NFL in 2017. But can he cut down on the number of big plays he gave up last season which attracts the ire of fans?
Mike Hilton: Hilton has found a home with the Steelers and he’s blown fans’ minds with his solid play in 2017. That brand of play has continued during the 2018 preseason games.
Cameron Sutton: Sutton has appeared to have moved to the backup slot-cornerback role. The fact that he’s been getting looks at safety might be intended to showcase his versatility, or perhaps might indicate a lack faith by the coaches in his capability to man the cornerback position.
Coty Sensabaugh: He was terrible in 2017 but he’s done enough so far in training camp and preseason to deserve a spot.
Brian Allen: He hasn’t embarrassed himself so far this preseason and deserves a spot on the 53-man roster. Game-day inactive.
Outside Linebackers (39/53)
Bud Dupree: The upcoming year will be make-or-break for Dupree. Switching sides with Watt seems to be helping productivity, but will it continue?
T.J. Watt: The BTSC faithful are predicting 10-plus sacks in 2018. But will his hamstring injury stunt his growth from his productive 2017 campaign?
Anthony Chickillo: Chick has NFL starting experience — that goes a long way in keeping his roster spot, even with his poor preseason showing so far.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi: The undrafted rookie has made as many good plays as mistakes, but the potential is there. He’ll have to produce on special teams to remain active on game days.
Keion Adams: The only reason Adams makes the 53-man roster is because no one else has jumped up and taken his spot away. Game-day inactive.
Inside Linebackers (43/53)
Vince Williams: VW is a 2-down thumper who will have his snap totals reduced from 75% in 2017. His liability in coverage will keep him rushing the passer where he was effective, generating eight sacks.
Jon Bostic: Bostic has flashed his run-stopping ability but has been criticized for blowing coverage assignments. Will he show why he was a former second-round pick, or perhaps why he’s on his fourth team in five years? At least he’s nailed down one of the starting ILB positions — for now.
Tyler Matakevich: Does he deserve a spot on the 53-man roster? No — but there just isn’t any other viable option.
Matthew Thomas: PFF graded Thomas (86.7) as the second highest Steelers’ defender against the Packers in the last preseason game. His biggest impact will come on special teams.
Sean Davis: The former second-round pick will enter a crucial season, and not an easy one, as he’ll switch positions at safety. Davis’ tackling issues will be scrutinized, as he’ll often be the last line of defense between offensive players and touchdowns.
Morgan Burnett: The first-year free agent has made his presence known with his box play so far in preseason. But the question will be how much of an upgrade he’ll be over Mike Mitchell, and that question will need to be answered early in the season.
Terrell Edmunds: There had been hopes that Edmunds would push Davis for playing time, but cold water was tossed on this chatter after Edmunds gave up two relatively easy touchdowns to Green Bay’s tight ends. Will Edmunds only see snaps in dime packages or in the event of injuries?
Nat Behre: BTSC fans are critical of Behre for getting turned around on an 82-yard touchdown during the Packers game — and rightfully so. Fans need to realize that the Steelers didn’t bring him in because of his play-making ability at safety but, rather, his special-teams prowess.
Defensive Line (53/53)
Cameron Heyward: Heyward’s double-digit sack total last season was the first of his career and most of any Steeler in 2017. Only injury or double teams could hinder him from repeating.
Stephon Tuitt: Tuitt has recovered from a 2017 Week-1 torn bicep that sapped his effectiveness throughout the season. The pressure will be on him to live up to the $60 million extension he signed in 2017.
Javon Hargrave: “Gravedigger” isn’t a flashy player — a nose tackle being noticed is a bad thing. He does need to do a better job of holding the point of attack better against the run in 2018.
Tyson Alualu: Alualu is one player that Steelers fans would like to see on the field more. His four sacks in 434 snaps were a pleasant surprise.
L.T. Walton: Even though Walton started four games in 2016, he returned to a distant backup role in 2017. That role will not change in 2018.
Daniel McCullers: “Shade Tree” is having a solid camp and he’s primed to stay with the team for another season. Steelers fans want to see an upgrade from him, but based on his preseason play, this won’t be the year. Game-day inactive.
11-man practice squad
OT Jake Rodgers
OG Oni Omoile
WR Justin Thomas
WR Trey Griffey
RB Jaylen Samuels
TE Christian Scotland-Williamson (International Practice Squad Program)
NT Joshua Frazier
LB Matt Galambos
LB Farrington Huguenin
CB Jamar Summers
S Marcus Allen
Will any of those end-of-roster players you’ve been cheering on for months make it? Or will they be looking to start their next profession? Steelers fans will find out the answer no later than 4 PM EST on September 1.