Every year they surprise us. Whether it be a player who was released, someone who surprisingly made the cut, or a position group that carried either more or less players than expected, the Steelers end up having to do something which catches the fan base off guard in order to get down to 53 players.
For the 2019 roster, the biggest surprises were based more on history than current events. From the conclusion of the final preseason game Thursday night to the 4 PM deadline on Saturday, the Steelers’ 53-man roster was fairly straight forward. But if someone had just awoke from a three-month nap this afternoon, the roster would possibly have been quite shocking in a few places.
With that said, here are the three biggest surprises in regards to the Steelers’ 53-man roster.
Most Surprising Player Cut
Going into cut-down day on Saturday, Eli Rogers was probably considered a 50-50 guy. While the wide receiver group appeared to be pretty set going into camp, Rogers soon found himself going from a guy on the team, to on the bubble, to then on the outside looking in. With only 3 receptions for 41 yards in the preseason, Rogers didn’t do much to stand out among the other young wide receivers.
The most surprising thing about Rogers’ situation was the way the Steelers handled his contract this past offseason. With his minimum contract set to toll for 2019 due to the amount of time spent on the PUP list in 2018, the Steelers instead signed Rogers to a new two-year, $3 million contract. By placing a higher investment on Rogers, it appeared he was going to be in their long-term plans. Instead, Rogers’ $500k signing bonus will now be on the books unless the Steelers bring him back in the near future.
Most Surprising Player Kept
While it’s surprising, it still isn’t surprising. Over the last several weeks, Tuzar Skipper has made it to where Steelers’ Nation may have been rioting in the streets across the globe if he were to have been cut. But to look at the path Skipper has taken to make the 53-man roster, it’s a pleasant surprise for his inclusion on the 53-man roster. Undrafted out of the University of Toledo, Skipper was not originally signed by the Steelers following the draft. After first trying out for the Kansas City Chiefs, Skipper was offered a tryout with the Steelers during rookie mini camp and was one of five players who left the weekend as a new member of the Steelers offseason roster.
Skipper had a long road ahead of him when he came into Steelers training camp. The team only kept three outside linebackers for most of the 2018 season and all three were returning in 2019. Additionally, the Steelers already had Skipper’s college teammate Olasunkanmi Adeniyi who made the initial 53-man roster the previous year before being placed on the Injured Reserve list for half of the season. Add in the Steelers first of their three 2019 sixth-round draft picks Sutton Smith, Skipper had a long way to go in order to climb up the depth chart.
Rather than focus on who else he had to outperform, Skipper took the field every day to play his best football. In the first preseason game he got a sack against Tampa Bay. The next week he added another against the Chiefs. By the end of the preseason, Skipper led both the team and the NFL with five preseason sacks.
What might have been the most impressive thing about Skipper was he performed well in each game and didn’t just flash for only part of the preseason. Added with his great attitude of doing whatever he needed to do to help the team, Skipper earned his was onto the Steelers roster.
“I will do anything to help this team win,” Skipper told reports following the final preseason game. “You want me to be a janitor, I’ll be a janitor.”
You don’t have be the janitor, Mr. Skipper. But Steelers’ fans will enjoy seeing you “mopping up” quarterbacks if given the chance during the 2019 season.
Most Surprising Position Group
The cut had to come from somewhere. It was apparent over the last couple weeks the Steelers were going to have to hold on to their young linebackers. In doing so, the Steelers had to find another spot to trim down their numbers in an unexpected way. Only keeping eight linebackers for most of 2018, it seemed like too much of a stretch to make the jump to 10 players in 2019. Where would the extra spots come from?
In doing my roster prediction after the final preseason game, I knew the Steelers needed to keep both Ulysees Gilbert III and Tuzar Skipper on the active roster. The problem was where to make the other cut to get them all on the 53. After looking to trim down both the offensive and defensive line, safeties, or tight ends, the Steelers made the decision to only go with five wide receivers on the active roster.
The reason this is concerning is twofold. First, the Steelers usually have five receivers active on game day. By only have five on the roster, they all should get a helmet if the group is healthy. If another position group would have been cut short instead, the same would be true for tight end, running back, and both the offensive and defensive line. Second, the difference for wide receiver (and for tight end as well) is there are times when all the players active on game day at that position are on the field at the same time. So if a wide receiver is down for the week, the Steelers either have to make a roster move or go without five wide receiver sets. If another position group such as defensive line would have one less player on the roster, a player missing time would change the rotation but would not inhibit the Steelers with the number of players on the field in certain situations. For this reason, going with five wide receivers will be interesting assuming the Steelers don’t make a roster move before next Sunday.
So what do you think? How surprising are these moves by the Steelers? Was there a better move to be made, or did they do the best with what they had? Is there something more surprising that is missing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!