The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2016 NFL Draft was a defensive minded draft focusing on the team's many defensive needs, as well as to address depth. However, with only 53 spots on the roster available, there are going to be some players who are currently preparing for the preseason who will be unemployed in about two weeks.
We give you an early projection of what we can expect the opening day roster for the Steelers to look like:
Quarterbacks - 3
Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones;
Until the Steelers make an official announcement on the severity of Gradkowski's hamstring injury, I have a feeling they will try to keep him on the roster. He knows the system, and despite his injury history could be a good No. 3 quarterback to round out the depth chart. If Gradkowski gets placed on injured reserve due to the injury, not only do I feel it would end his career, but the position filled would be TBD (To Be Determined). The team would like look for a quarterback released by another team to come and fill out the depth chart.
Running Backs - 4 (7)
Le'Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Daryl Richardson;
Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are the rocks of the depth chart, but with Bell being suspended for the first three games, the team will need to carry 4 running backs. Toussaint and Richardson are in a terrific battle for the No. 2 spot when Bell is out, and also for the right for a helmet on game days when Bell returns as the No. 3 running back on the depth chart.
Wide Receivers - 5 (12)
Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey,
Demarcus Ayers, Eli Rogers
Let's be honest, the top 4 wide receivers are a no-brainer. The battle for the 5th WR spot was between Rogers and Demarcus Ayers. Ayers hasn't played poorly, but would be a great candidate for the practice squad. Rogers has been too dynamic in the preseason, and has shown the ability to return punts, for him not to make the team.
Tight Ends - 4 (16)
Matt Spaeth, Jesse James, Roosevelt Nix, David Johnson
Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth's retirements, combined with Ladarius Green's injury, will likely force the Steelers into carrying 4 tight ends on the roster, at least until Green returns. Nix will be used as an H-back who can line up in the backfield, as well as a tight end. Essentially, James, Nix and Johnson will likely be your starting TE depth chart heading into Week 1.
Offensive Tackles - 4 (20)
Marcus Gilbert, Alejandro Villanueva, Ryan Harris, Jerald Hawkins;
Gilbert and Villanueva most likely retain their starting spots with the free agent add in Harris as a viable backup and the rookie Hawkins proving he can play at the NFL level after having a great training camp before injuring his shoulder at the end of camp.
Offensive Guards - 3 (23)
David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Chris Hubbard;
The guard position has been solidified for Pittsburgh for years now under Foster and DeCastro, and should continue to be with Foster under a new three year contract and DeCastro being one of Pittsburgh better young players. Hubbard will most likely be the only official backup guard, with other interior linemen being able to fill in.
Centers - 2 (25)
Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace;
Wallace earned his keep when he filled in for Pouncey throughout the 2015 season, making him the best option as a backup interior linemen. But the entire Pittsburgh offense will be ecstatic to have Pouncey back in the lineup.
Defensive Ends - 4 (29)
Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Leterrius Walton,
Caushad Lyons, Ricardo Mathews
The Steelers will need a pair of defensive ends to backup Heyward and Tuitt in case of any injury to their starters that played over 90% of defensive snaps in 2015. Walton is a second year sixth round draft pick and free agent acquisition Ricardo Mathews has proven he is not Cam Thomas 2.0, but a player who can effctively spell Tuitt and Heyward when necessary.
Defensive Tackles - 2 (31)
Daniel McCullers, Javon Hargrave
With the dwindling of the usage of nose tackle as a position with more defensive fronts being part of a shotgun formation, the Steelers will probably have Hargrave as a player that can rotate between tackle and end, while McCullers would still be a full time nose tackle.
Inside Linebackers - 4 (35)
Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, L.J. Fort;
Shazier and Timmons retain their spots while the ever reliable Williams is the primary backup for another season, but the added L.J. Fort beats out Tyler Matakevich for the last spot on the 53-man roster. This will come as a crushing blow to many fans, but the team would be wise to hang onto Matakevich and put him on the practice squad if he clears the other 31 teams looking for linebacker depth.
Outside Linebackers - 5 (40)
Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones, James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Travis Feeney;
The outside linebacker position has been discussed so much, I feel most fans could rattle off their depth chart in their sleep. Nonetheless, I have Feeney making the team over Matakevich due to his speed and athleticism, which will aid in special teams. Feeney was one of the better special teams players at the University of Washington, and that is a clear advantage he has over Matakevich.
Cornerbacks - 5 (45)
William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Artie Burns, Senquez Golson, Doran Grant;
The Steelers will likely hold out hope Golson will return at some point in 2016, and with rookie Sean Davis playing cornerback as well, it will help bolster the position. There is a strong chance the team will look at free agents when other teams cut their roster down to 75, and to 53, in an attempt to bring in a player who could help round out the cornerback depth chart.
Safeties - 5 (50)
Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Sean Davis, Robert Golden,
Ross Ventrone, Jordan Dangerfield
Mitchell and Golden will be your Week 1 starters, but with Davis playing significant snaps at cornerback, it leaves Shamarko Thomas as the primary backup after Davis. Due to this complex situation, Jordan Dangerfield will make the team as a primary backup/special teams player. He has the most experience in the system, and has been close to making the final roster in years past.
Special Teams - 3 (53)
Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Greg Warren;
Nothing to see here. Since Suisham was released/retired it has been these three who would always have the starting jobs, barring injury.
Subject to change
As we move closer to opening day, many of these roster battles will take place and shift the alignment of the roster which will cause for new analysis based off training camp reports and preseason performance. Of course, injuries can completely derail a roster, but we will keep you abreast on any and all information to get you ready for the set roster of the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers.