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Predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 53-man roster: Final projections

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: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Handout Photo

Steelers training camp is all but over with only the final roster cut downs set to occur on Saturday, September 5 at 4 p.m. ET. 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. We have been predicting the roster all along this journey, and it is time to put our final predictions out there.

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!

For those who might enjoy to hear more about our picks, you can check out the podcast below where we go position by position and debate who makes it, and who gets cut!

Offense


Quarterback (3)

Dave: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges

Changes: None

Analysis: I firmly believe the Steelers will have four quarterbacks this year between the roster and the practice squad, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to only have two on the active roster with the new rules being able to pull up a player on game day. But until they do it, I’ll go with tradition.

Jeff: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges

Changes: None, although they could go into the season with only two quarterbacks and I wouldn’t be shocked.

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, Jaylen Samuels

Changes: Wendell Smallwood out, Samuels in

Analysis: I thought perhaps Smallwood could make some noise and the Steelers might try to trade Samuels. Although it could happen, Smallwood missing time due to injury hasn’t helped make the case.

Jeff: James Conner, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Kerrith Whyte Jr.

Changes: Kerrith Whyte Jr. in, Jaylen Samuels out

Analysis: Even with Samuels’ history with Matt Canada, I just don’t see him being worth a roster spot in 2020. Whyte provides special teams ability, and more of a desirable skill set.


Fullback (1)

Dave: Derek Watt

Changes: None

Analysis: For 2020, it’s either Derek Watt or no fullback at all.

Jeff: Derek Watt

Changes: None

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, Ryan Switzer, Ray-Ray McCloud

Changes: Deon Cain out, McCloud in

Analysis: I think the bottom part of the wide receivers May be the most difficult to judge in 2020. As much as I like Deon Cain and Amara Darboh, I don’t know if I’ve heard enough about them to feel confident with the Steelers holding onto them pertaining to the 53-man roster. The reason I think Ray-Ray McCloud sneaks in is because of both his return ability and his ability to be a gunner on kick coverage. He fills the Johnny Holton/DHB role the Steelers have been looking for in their last wide receiver on the roster.

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

Changes: None

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


Tight End (3)

Dave: Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry

Changes: Zach Gentry in

Analysis: I tinkered with the idea of only keeping two tight ends and sneaking Gentry onto the practice squad, but I doubt the Steelers do it. I like the idea, but I just don’t think it’s what will happen.

Jeff: Vance McDonald, Zach Gentry, Eric Ebron

Changes: Zach Gentry in

Analysis: The Steelers go into the season with three tight ends, giving Gentry a spot.


Offensive Line (8)

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

Changes: Derwin Gray out

Analysis: If the Steelers are going to keep four running backs, somewhere has to take a hit. So I’ll go back to the notion of them keeping eight offensive linemen on the roster with a big stash on the practice squad.

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

Changes: Derwin Gray out

Analysis: The emergence of Dotson as a legitimate option makes Gray expendable. Gray being out helps Gentry make it.

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 still being the obvious choice.

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

Changes: None

Analysis: 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 feel a lot of the defense I’ve been set for a while with only a spot or two still up for grabs. This is not one of them other than perhaps only keeping four and trying to get Skipper onto the practice squad.

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

Changes: None

Analysis: Highsmith has proven worthy of playing time, with Adeniyi and Skipper battling for a spot on the depth chart.


Inside Linebacker (4)

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

Changes: None

Analysis: Right now this position group is what it is. Apparently another player who could fill-in in a pinch is Marcus Allen, but he will be discussed later.

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

Changes: None

Analysis: Goodness this makes me concerned.


Cornerback (5)

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

Changes: None

Analysis: I haven’t wavered with this position yet, and I think the Steelers have quality depth here where they don’t need to keep anyone else around just for the sake of having them on the roster. Layne brings an important special-teams aspect so I think all five will be active on game day.

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

Changes: None

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, Marcus Allen, Curtis Riley

Changes: Antoine Brooks Jr. out, Marcus Allen in

Analysis: I’m keeping Riley around as he could also be an additional cornerback. With Marcus Allen filling in some at linebacker (exactly how well is to be determined), I think he’s taking an edge over the Steelers sixth-round draft pick. I think it’s a year where no preseason games will help the Steelers get Brooks onto the practice squad and work on his development.

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

Changes: None

Analysis: Curtis Riley has been turning heads in training camp, but has he done enough to make the roster?

Total Defense: 25


Special Teams


Specialists (3)

Dave: Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday

Changes: None

Analysis: I wasn’t sure about Canaday until he returned to practice this week from injury. I still think another punter may be found other than Berry, but I would have no idea who it would be. Therefore, Berry wins the holder’s job which means he has to also punt when needed.

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

Changes: Sadly, none.

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 Kevin Rader
WR Deon Cain
WR Amara Darboh
C J.C. Hassenauer
OT Christian DiLauro
OT Derwin Gray
DT Henry Mondeaux
DT Carlos Davis
DT Calvin Taylor Jr.
OLB Jayrone Elliott
CB James Pierre
CB Trajan Bandy
S Antoine Brooks Jr.

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. A lot of these positions are to make sure they are covered for the 2020 season and any COVID-19 issues, but a few may be used for development.

Jeff: What Dave said... (other than the guys we had different on the roster)

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