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 our final projection of what we can expect the opening day roster for the Steelers to look like:
Quarterbacks - 3
Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones, Zach Mettenberger;
Bye Bruce Gradkowski. Solid dude, but couldn't stay healthy. The team picked up Mettenberger off waivers from San Diego and there you have your QB depth chart heading into Week 1. Not too bad, if you ask me.
Running Backs - 3 (6)
Le'Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Daryl Richardson;
Le'Veon Bell will be moved to the suspended list by Saturday, which means Williams, Toussaint and Richardson will be the top three running backs for the first 3 weeks of the season. Who sticks around when Bell returns is another can of worms we won't open just yet.
Wide Receivers - 5 (11)
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 (15)
LaDarius Green, Jesse James, Roosevelt Nix, David Johnson; Free Agent Player
Ladarius Green is headed to the PUP list, putting him on the shelf for the first 6 weeks of the season, at least, and I don't see Xavier Grimble making the roster. Just too inconsistent all around. I expect the Steelers to explore a free agent tight end to help fill in the gap.
Offensive Tackles - 4 (19)
Marcus Gilbert, Alejandro Villanueva, Ryan Harris,
Jerald Hawkins, Matt Feiler, Free Agent Player
Go into a season with just three offensive tackles? You bet. Chris Hubbard would be the emergency tackle if injuries forced them to move someone on the edge. I wouldn't be shocked to see the team look for a free agent tackle after teams cut their rosters to 53 players.
Offensive Guards - 3 (22)
David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney
Chris Hubbard's position flexibility and versatility is enough to keep him on the team...at least for the opening week.
Centers - 2 (24)
Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace;
You could throw B.J. Finney in this list, but there is nothing new to add here.
Defensive Ends - 4 (28)
Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Leterrius Walton, Ricardo Mathews;
What once was a huge issue with depth has turned into a solid corps. Mathews has been a big surprise for the Steelers, and will play a large role in keeping Tuitt and Heyward healthy and fresh. Mathews would likely be the starter if Heyward is unable to play in Week 1 due to a high ankle sprain suffered in the Week 3 preseason game against the Saints.
Defensive Tackles - 2 (30)
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 (35)
Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, L.J. Fort,
Tyler Matakevich, Steven Johnson
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 Steven Johnson. Yes, I have them cutting Matakevich, but I feel he will be on the practice squad in 2016.
Outside Linebackers - 5 (40)
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 a previous 53-man projection, his play just doesn't pop when he is on the field, and he is now dealing with a concussion. 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 (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, Jordan Dangerfield
With my projection have Matakevich being released, I had the team retain Dangerfield. Dangerfield has shown to be a great tackler, and could become a very valuable piece of the Steelers speical teams puzzle.
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.
Practice Squad Projection (Spots left open for free agent additions)
- WR Demarcus Ayers
- WR Cobi Hamilton
- ILB Tyler Matakevich
- OLB Travis Feeney
- RB Brandon Brown-Dukes
- OT Matt Feiler
- DL Cashaud Lyons