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 sooner than later.
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, or place him on injured reserve, 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, 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)
LaDarius Green, 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. If Green starts the year on the PUP list, the Steelers could look for Xavier Grimble, who played well against the Saints to get a roster spot.
Offensive Tackles - 4 (20)
Marcus Gilbert, Alejandro Villanueva, Ryan Harris,
Jerald Hawkins, Matt Feiler
Gilbert and Villanueva most likely retain their starting spots with the free agent add in Harris as a viable backup at both positions.With rookie Hawkins being placed on injured reserve, ending his season, the team is in dire straits at offensive tackle. Feiler, a rookie out of Bloomsburg, is the next, and last, on the depth chart, but don't think he will make the team's final roster. I fully expect the Steelers to be looking at the waiver wire for an offensive tackle by the time teams trim their roster to 53.
Offensive Guards - 3 (23)
David DeCastro, Ramon Foster,
Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney
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's better young players. Finney has proven his versatility by being able to play both center and guard, something the Steelers value.
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, 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 effectively spell Tuitt and Heyward when necessary.
Defensive Tackles - 2 (31)
Daniel McCullers, Javon Hargrave
With the dwindling usage of nose tackle, based on the team's consistent movement away from the 3-4 defense, 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 - 5 (36)
Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich
Shazier and Timmons retain their spots while the ever reliable Williams is the primary backup for another season. In this projection the Steelers keep both L.J. Fort and rookie Tyler Matakevich for both depth and special teams reason.
Outside Linebackers - 5 (41)
Bud Dupree, Jarvis Jones, James Harrison, Arthur Moats,
Travis Feeney; Anthony Chickillo
The outside linebacker position has been discussed so much I feel most fans could rattle off their depth chart in their sleep. Nonetheless, as I had Feeney on the previous 53-man projection, his play just doesn't pop when he is on the field. I think he is a player who could, and should, be retained on the practice squad, but I don't think he will make the team when they cut down to 53 players.
Cornerbacks - 5 (46)
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 - 4 (50)
Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Sean Davis, Robert Golden,
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. The team needs depth at other positions, and this marks the end of the road for Dangerfield...again.
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 performances. 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.