The NFL preseason is over. By 4 pm EST today — which, based on when this article is published, could be in a number of hours — every team in the NFL, through an excruciating series of tense face-to-face meetings, will have trimmed its roster down to the requisite 53 players, from the 90 or so who were milling around each locker room just a few days ago. Some of castoffs will sign elsewhere, either chasing rings with contenders or joining bottom-feeders awash in surplus capital. Others will latch onto practice squads but, for the vast majority of players who don’t survive final cuts, this is the end of the line.
Which is sad! A lot of these dudes probably have had professional football aspirations since their Pee-wee days, and they’re about to get pimp-slapped by the cold hand of an unwelcome reality. If you’ve exhibited even a fleeting interest if Pittsburgh’s offseason and preseason proceedings, then you could probably conjure a pretty accurate image of what the 53-man Steelers roster will look like, save for maybe a handful of surprises. I really can’t say if the fourth preseason game — a game that is traditionally meaningless even by preseason standards — has drastically altered Mike Tomlin et al.’s plans for constructing the roster, so I’d like this edition of the Stock Report to reflect where we stand heading into cut- day, not necessarily where we stand following the fourth preseason game, if that makes sense. Probably it doesn’t, so that’s my bad. Let’s get to it:
Spurned in the third preseason game in favor of Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, and Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs was given the start in game four, presumably with the understanding that his performance would more or less seal his fate with the Steelers, and the guy balled out! Playing the entire first half, Dobbs completed eight of 12 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown and opened the scoring with a three-yard touchdown dive in the first quarter. In his three appearances this preseason, Dobbs completed 29 of 43 passes (67 completion %) for 434 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions which, all told, was good for a 112.0 quarterback rating. I don’t wanna get too carried away with all of that because a) it’s the preseason, so who really gives a lick and b) if you compare Dobbs’ statistics to some other depth quarterbacks from around the NFL, he was about as good as Nathan Peterman, E.J. Manual, and Robert Griffin III, which, I mean, absolutely yikes. But even before Thursday’s preseason finale, Dobbs had reportedly drawn trade interest from other, quarterback-needy teams, so his strong performance against Carolina surely improved his stock.
Rudolph has, in my opinion, had just as strong of a preseason as Dobbs, but he was a third-round pick who the Steelers claim they graded as a first-round talent, which is a roundabout way of saying that he was a lock to make the 53-man roster the night he was drafted. At this point, the Steelers can either keep four quarterbacks on the roster (which, candidly, I think is what they will ultimately do—just to cover my own butt, it’s 9:02 p.m. as I write this, and all four quarterbacks are still on the roster), or cut/trade Dobbs or Jones. Jones is more a “proven commodity” (I like Landry Jones, so be nice), but that could actually have a negative impact on his trade value since any prospective partner would know exactly what they’re getting. Dobbs, meanwhile, is still very young and very unrefined, and I’m sure there are quarterback coaches aplenty salivating over the prospect of enlisting him as a “project” or whatever.
We’ll see what happens later today, but I’m 100% sure that Josh Dobbs will be on a 53-man roster somewhere by this time Sunday.
Matthew Thomas: Stock up
Thomas was always going to have a fair shot at making the roster. A former five-star prospect in high school and crown jewel of a Florida State recruiting class that included Jalen freaking Ramsey, Thomas entered training camp as an under-the-radar candidate to fill the void left behind by Ryan Shazier. Those expectations were and are, of course, flatly ridiculous, but Thomas has proven that he’s deserving not only of a roster spot, but a pronounced role in the defensive rotation. He made the play of the preseason against the Panthers, jetting into the backfield, knocking the ball out of Kyle Allen’s hand during his windup, snagging the loose ball up the air, and rumbling 60-some yards in the other direction for a near-touchdown. Emulating Ryan Shazier’s situational awareness, sideline-to-sideline explosiveness, and playmaking acumen is a tall order, but Matthew Thomas might be the most fitting Shazier-proxy on the whole roster. That’s about as good as anyone can hope for from a player they grabbed from atop the scrap heap.
Le’Veon Bell: Stock down
James Conner and Jaylen Samuels both had solid preseasons, and even Stevan Ridley, who not long ago was merely the corpse of a semi-capable running back, looks like someone who deserves to be on an NFL roster this season. I have no doubt that these developments have engendered further public contempt toward Bell. See we don’t even need him; hand Conner and Samuels the keys! Trade him for Khalil Mack! (Full disclosure: I love Le’Veon Bell and think that the Steelers should pay him a billion dollars, but if they could trade him for Khalil Mack straight up then I’d purchase a Khalil Mack jersey tonight.)
I think that, much like last season, Bell will get off to a slow-ish start as he shakes off the rust but will be totally fine after a couple of weeks. I’m putting his stock down for this reason, but also because this poor guy is literally gonna get booed at home.
Defensive line: Stock up
Joshua Frazier, a seventh-round pick from Alabama who many people—read: me :(—expected to make a run at the roster, probably won’t, um, make the roster, so the defensive line is very likely going to look exactly the same as it did last season, with Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt bookending it, Tyson Alualu serving as the primary backup, Javon Hargrave playing sparingly as the nose tackle, L.T. Walton getting some snaps here and there, and Daniel McCullers being our Adorable Dense Son. This unit last season anchored a Steelers defense that led the NFL in sacks — if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Rookies: Stock up
Defensive back Terrell Edmunds and receiver James Washington both look like they’re going to make pronounced impacts on their respective sides of the ball this season, and Mason Rudolph has played well enough this preseason to keep the “heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger” narratives aflame (though, to take nothing away from Rudolph, I hope he logs exactly zero snaps during the regular season, as his appearance in an actual game of consequence would likely indicate that something has gone very gravely wrong). The Steelers really struck gold last season with T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster (and maybe James Conner, and maybe Josh Dobbs), so doing so two years in a row would help keep them competitive now and well into the future.
Jordan Berry: Stock down
Jordan Berry—whose net average of 35.5 yards per punt ranks third-to-last in the NFL at the moment—has been thoroughly outplayed by Matt Wile—whose net average of 48.8 (!!!) yards per punt leads the NFL this preseason. The Steelers’ defense is probably better than they’re getting credit for, but they aren’t exactly the 2015 Denver Broncos, so getting a punter who can buy them an extra couple of yards of field position per kick is definitely something worth exploring.