The Pittsburgh Steelers must name their initial 53-man roster of the year by 4 p.m ET on September 1 and it would appear that most of the key positions on the team are already set in stone. Very few of the returning starters from 2017 are in danger of losing their jobs and most of the open roles on the team have been filled by the veteran free agents signed during the offseason.
As usual, any rookie selected in the first two days of the draft is guaranteed a roster spot and there should be very few surprises when the Steelers finally confirm the players they are releasing after the game against the Carolina Panthers. However, that does not mean that names on the fringe of the squad have nothing to play for on Thursday, with one or two places on the Opening Day roster still up for grabs against the Panthers.
While a number of the roster projections published on a variety of websites in the past few days seem to think Pittsburgh will keep four quarterbacks in 2018, I struggle to believe the team will opt to keep Joshua Dobbs, regardless of his solid play this offseason.
In my one and only attempt of the year at predicting the Steelers’ final 53-man roster, Dobbs is joining names like Ola Adeniyi, Marcus Allen and Damoun Patterson on the waiver wire come cut down day, barring a last-minute trade.
Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones and Mason Rudolph are the most logical names to go with at quarterback and while Dobbs has clearly shown some progress this offseason, there is little about his game to suggest he is a better prospect than Rudolph. Even as a strong advocate for the trade Jones faction of Steeler Nation, there is seemingly no chance the coaching staff opts to let him go this offseason. That does not stop me from hoping that Dobbs does something spectacular on Thursday night to convince the Steelers otherwise.
While Le’Veon Bell, James Conner and Roosevelt Nix have been locks for their positions all offseason, rookie Jaylen Samuels is the first wildcard of training camp I could see making the roster. A lot could still depend on the division of labour against Carolina, but it would appear the team has given Samuels every chance to impress at the expense of Stevan Ridley and Fitzgerald Toussaint. Perhaps not talent the veteran backs are as a pass blocker, Samuels might offer the team more value as a pass catcher. Should he receive the bulk of the carries one again on Thursday, Samuels could lock up the third running back role with a strong performance.
The late arrival of Ryan Switzer seems to dictate the Steelers will be keeping six wide receivers this year. Although Patterson was a standout performer early in the preseason, the arrival of Swift suggests his best shot with the team is on the practice squad. The remainder of the group were never really in doubt this year.
If not for injuries, the tight end group would only feature three names, but the long-term absence of Vance McDonald and a torn ligament in the thumb of Xavier Grimble should mean Pittsburgh will begin the season with four players at the position. Jesse James will mostly likely be the starter once again by default and Bucky Hodges gets a roster spot, albeit until his teammates return to the field.
To accommodate an extra tight end, the most logical move appears to be going with eight along the offensive line, and the healthy returning veterans from 2017 are all locks to retain their roles. It would not be a surprise to see the team add another tackle before the year begins, but that might have to wait until McDonald and Grimble return to action and could come at the expense of Hodges.
Daniel McCullers has been surprisingly motivated in preseason and I surprise myself by saying he deserves his place on the roster this year. Although some of the younger faces in camp along the defensive line have shown promise at times, no one has really stood out enough to suggest they could take the jobs of the returning veterans.
The same cannot be said of the linebackers group and there should be at least one new face on the roster this season. Undrafted free agent Matthew Thomas has displayed a level of speed and athleticism that is sadly lacking in the rest of the group and his coverage skills might already be a notch above most of the returning veteran inside linebackers. Jon Bostic has been solid if unspectacular through three preseason games, but his position with the team was never really in doubt.
Tyler Matakevich might not have taken the leap forward many might have hoped, but his special teams play alone guarantees him a place in the roster. L.J. Fort has shown improvement this offseason and is another value contributor on special teams the Steelers are sure to keep.
T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo were locks to make the roster at outside linebacker, but there was always some doubt who the fourth name would be. Given his standout performances as of late, Adeniyi would seem like the obvious candidate for job, but Keion Adams has been performing equally well in preseason with perhaps fewer splash plays. A big game by Adeniyi against the Panthers could yet win him the job, but my money is on Adams at this stage.
Coty Sensabaugh was a candidate to be released earlier in the year, but has looked far more comfortable after a full offseason with the team under his belt. As well as the veteran names have performed in limited action, none of the younger faces in the secondary have done much to stake a claim for a job. Injuries have prevented Marcus Allen from making a serious run at a roster spot and he should be offered a place on the practice squad.
Even if the Steelers should replace punter Jordan Berry, the only chance of that happening is if a name like Trevor Daniel is let go by the Houston Texans before Saturday.