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Predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 53-man roster: Pre-padded practices

With training camp getting revved up, it’s time to make our predictions for the Steelers 53-man roster and the 16-man practice squad.

NFL: DEC 22 Steelers at Jets Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Steelers training camp is under way with the first padded practice set to occur on Monday, August 17. While things are much more difficult to judge with no preseason games to take in, we are ready to go full-steam ahead when it comes to predicting the Steelers roster for Week 1. Since we already did this exercise in mid July, Dave will be noting any changes from his previous selections. And now that Jeff Hartman is back and better than ever, he will be chiming in with his selections as well.

For those unsure exactly how the NFL rosters will work this season, it is still a 53-man roster. While some believe the roster is actually at 55 players, each team will only have 53 as they prepare each week for their opponent. Two practice squad players (from now a pool of 16 which was originally set to be 12 compared to 10 in 2019) will be eligible to move up to the roster without displacing any other players. The first two times a player is called up they will not have to clear waivers to go back onto the practice squad. Here is the direct wording from the CBA:

During the regular season and postseason, a Club’s Active/Inactive List shall not exceed 53 players unless a Club has chosen to elevate either one or two players from its Practice Squad to its Active/Inactive List, in accordance with the procedures set forth in Article 33, Section 5 of this Agreement.

In this installment, we will also predict any player currently with the Steelers who could land on the 16-man practice squad. Note the rules are a little different in 2020 as up to 6 players on the practice squad can have an unlimited amount of accrued seasons.

As always, we welcome you to join the conversation in our comment section below this article. Let your voice be heard and join in the black-and-gold conversation!

Offense


Quarterback (3)

Dave: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges

Changes: None

Analysis: I keep going back and forth between Hodges and Paxton Lynch for the third quarterback spot. It’s hard to really distinguish between the two at this point, and I’m not sure it’s going to get any clearer.

Jeff: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges

Analysis: Some think Lynch has a shot. I once thought that too, until I saw Geoffrey Benedict’s film breakdown of the quarterback. Hodges wins the QB3 spot.


Running Back (4)

Dave: James Conner, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Wendell Smallwood

Changes: Jaylen Samuels out, Wendell Smallwood in

Analysis: I’ve got to go bold somewhere, so I’m going to predict Samuels gets traded before Week 1. If not, it would be tough to leave him off the list.

Jeff: James Conner, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels

Analysis: I would love it if Kerrith Whyte Jr. or Wendell Smallwood could crack the roster, but with Matt Canada’s success with Jaylen Samuels I see them keeping him on the roster as more of an H-back.


Fullback (1)

Dave: Derek Watt

Changes: None

Analysis: As of last Thursday, he’s the only one left on the roster as the Steelers released Spencer Nigh.

Jeff: Derek Watt

Analysis: Some say they over paid for Derek Watt. He is the fullback moving forward.


Wide Receiver (6)

Dave: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool, Deon Cain, Ryan Switzer

Changes: None

Analysis: The only name I could see entering the mix is Amara Darboh as he would be the only other player who may not make it to the practice squad.

Jeff: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Chase Claypool, Deon Cain, Ryan Switzer

Analysis: Some like Amara Darboh or Saeed Blacknell, but their best shot is on the practice squad. Switzer sticks around, especially if Whyte Jr. doesn’t make the team.


Tight End (2)

Dave: Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron,

Changes: Zach Gentry out

Analysis: Here’s where I think the Steelers get creative. In order to keep an extra running back, they go with their two big tight ends on the active roster and keep two on the practice squad.

Jeff: Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron

Analysis: Zach Gentry finds his spot on the expanded practice squad, and I could see him being TE3 on the roster by the end of the season. Just a numbers game at this point.


Offensive Line (9)

Dave: Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, Stefen Wisniewski, Kevin Dotson, Derwin Gray

Changes: Derwin Gray in

Analysis: If the Steelers skimp on the tight end position, especially if they have an extra lineman as the “jumbo,” I think they keep their typical nine offensive linemen.

Jeff: Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Chuks Okorafor, Zach Banner, Stefen Wisniewski, Kevin Dotson, Derwin Gray

Analysis: I see them carrying all of those offensive linemen for obvious reasons. The battles are who starts at right tackle, not who makes the team.

Total Offense: 25


Defense


Defensive Line (6)

Dave: Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Isaiah Buggs, Daniel McCullers

Changes: None

Analysis: Other players like Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis should slide onto the practice squad, making these six be the obvious choice.

Jeff: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormely, Isaiah Buggs, Dan McCullers

Analysis: This is a position I could see them trimming a player if they wanted to keep someone like Gentry on the roster, but at this point I think they want a big-bodied player, McCullers, at nose tackle for their base defense.


Outside Linebacker (5)

Dave: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper

Changes: None

Analysis: I doubt the Steelers could get any of these reserves on the practice squad, therefore they hold on to all five players for now.

Jeff: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith, Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper

Analysis: Highsmith will be used primarily on special teams, with Adeniyi and Skipper getting a shot to prove they are worthy of more time if/when Dupree leaves after 2020.


Inside Linebacker (4)

Dave: Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Ulysees Gilbert III, Robert Spillane

Changes: None

Analysis: Even if an undrafted rookie would make some noise, it will be much easier to get them on the practice squad than years past with no preseason games. I see the Steelers going with both Gilbert and Spillane as reserves due to special teams ability, but Spillane could flirt with being inactive on game day.

Jeff: Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Ulysees Gilbert III, Robert Spillane

Analysis: Goodness this makes me concerned.


Cornerback (5)

Dave: Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne,

Changes: None

Analysis: In essence there will be a change, but you’ll have to read the breakdown of safeties to see it.

Jeff: Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton, Justin Layne

Analysis: Can Justin Layne prove to be quality depth? We might just find out in 2020 if he plays anywhere other than special teams. This position is pretty much set.


Safety (5)

Dave: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Antoine Brooks Jr., Curtis Riley

Changes: Marcus Allen out, Curtis Riley in

Analysis: I have no idea if I should put Riley as a cornerback or safety. But this is the reason I went with him over Allen as he heads back to the practice squad.

Jeff: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Marcus Allen, Antoine Brooks, Jr.

Analysis: I have always had faith the Steelers can find a spot on the roster for Marcus Allen. If he can out play the rookie from Maryland, Brooks Jr., I think he could find a spot on the team.

Total Defense: 25


Special Teams


Specialists (3)

Dave: Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday

Changes: None

Analysis: In the current world of uncertainties, I see the Steelers settling for the mediocre Jordan Berry rather than an unknown form anywhere else.

Jeff: Chris Boswell, Kameron Canaday, anyone not named Jordan Berry

Analysis: If the team can find anyone who is more consistent than Berry they should sign them on the spot and not let them leave town.


Total Team: 53


16-man practice squad:

Dave:
QB Paxton Lynch
RB Kerrith Whyte Jr.
RB Trey Edmunds
TE Zach Gentry
TE Dax Raymond
WR Saeed Blacknall
WR Amara Darboh
C J.C. Hassenauer
OT Christian DiLauro
DT Henry Mondeaux
DT Carlos Davis
OLB James Lockhart
ILB Leo Lewis
CB Alexander Myres
CB Trajan Bandy
S Marcus Allen

Analysis: While I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Steelers possibly carry a kicker who could handle both punting and placekicking duties, I don’t think they have that player on the team right now. I’m also not sure if they will keep a fourth quarterback, but I think it would be wise with the expanded practice squad to do so in case of a COVID-19 issue.

Jeff: What Dave said, but add Riley for Allen.

Analysis: I’ve never been one to try and predict a practice squad...I struggle just trying to predict the 53-man roster.