Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers defenders Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt were both drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft
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This is one of the more fun exercises I like to do several times each season because it shows the makeup of the internal engine which fuels the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Below I have broken up the “current” Pittsburgh Steelers roster into several segments. Now, please understand that I intentionally left a few names off of this list. I tried to stick with players who saw playing time in 2016 or those newly signed during the offseason. You will not see practice squad players such as Matt Feiler or Brian Mihalik on this list, nor will futures contract (read: camp bodies) like Jacob Hagen be listed either.

The rationale is simple: I wanted to stick to the players which best have a shot at making the final 53-man roster. Those who are under contract or recently signed to free agent deals expect to compete for a spot. We can also expect up to eight draft picks to vie for a position on the depth chart as well.

Oh, and Martavis Bryant could be reinstated “any moment” but again, for simplicity, I did not add him to the rolls.

While there are more than 53 players listed below (since the NFL allows teams to enter camp with 90 men on their rosters) I believe this is still an interesting look at how the Steelers build their roster.

Drafted by the Steelers

The following 26 players (nearly half of what would be a final 53) were all drafted by initially by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The players may have left and returned (William Gay, David Johnson) or have been release/re-sign candidates (Anthony Chickillo, Demarcus Ayers) who didn’t make the final cuts following the preseason but were retained on the practice squad and eventually called up to the main roster.

Player Pos DOB Draft Status
Roethlisberger, Ben QB 3/2/1982 04 01 011
Gay, William CB 1/1/1985 07 05 170
Johnson, David FB 8/26/1987 09 07 241
Pouncey, Maurkice C 7/24/1989 10 01 018
Brown, Antonio WR 7/10/1988 10 06 195
Heyward, Cameron DE 5/6/1989 11 01 031
Gilbert, Marcus T 2/15/1988 11 02 063
DeCastro, David G 1/11/1990 12 01 024
Bell, Le’Veon RB 2/18/1992 13 02 048
Jones, Landry QB 4/4/1989 13 04 115
Williams, Vince LB 12/27/1989 13 06 206
Shazier, Ryan LB 1/14/1992 14 01 015
Tuitt, Stephon DE 5/23/1993 14 02 046
McCullers, Daniel DT 8/11/1992 14 06 215
Dupree, Bud LB 2/12/1993 15 01 022
Golson, Senquez CB 7/7/1993 15 02 056
Coates, Sammie WR 3/31/1993 15 03 087
James, Jesse TE 6/4/1994 15 05 160
Walton, Leterrius DT 3/31/1992 15 06 199
Chickillo, Anthony LB 12/10/1992 15 06 212
Burns, Artie CB 5/1/1995 16 01 025
Davis, Sean S 10/23/1993 16 02 058
Hargrave, Javon DT 2/7/1993 16 03 089
Hawkins, Jerald T 10/16/1993 16 04 123
Ayers, Demarcus WR 7/7/1994 16 07 229
Matakevich, Tyler LB 12/22/1992 16 07 246

Of the 26 listed above, seven are first round draft picks, and five are second round draft picks (a total of eleven in the first two rounds), but eight players were taken in rounds six and seven, showing the Steelers know how to also find contributors throughout the entire draft.

College Free Agents

A total of nine players headlines the following list, which consists of free agents who were originally signed by the Steelers directly out of college.

Player Pos DOB Draft Status
Harrison, James LB 5/4/1978 02 CFA
Warren, Greg LS 10/18/1981 05 CFA
Foster, Ramon G 1/7/1986 09 CFA
Golden, Robert S 9/13/1990 12 CFA
Hubbard, Chris G 4/23/1991 13 CFA
Rogers, Eli WR 12/23/1992 15 CFA
Berry, Jordan P 3/18/1991 15 SFA
Finney, BJ G 10/26/1991 15 CFA
Maxey, Johnny DE 10/19/1993 16 CFA

James Harrison and Greg Warren are two of the remaining Steelers who own a Super Bowl ring while in Pittsburgh (along with Ben Roethlisberger and William Gay).

Aside from Ramon Foster, the others are relative newcomers, but all have found a niche contributing with the team. Jordan Berry won the punting job two seasons ago while setting records in 2016. Eli Rogers won the starting slot receiver job last season. Chris Hubbard and BJ Finney both filled in nicely on the offensive line when injuries had their number called. Johnny Maxey saw limited playing time when Cam Heyward was injured last year, and Robert Golden was rewarded with a new three-year contract last offseason.

The Overlooked Free Agents

The following players all started with different NFL teams as undrafted college free agents but landed with the Steelers.

Player Pos DOB Draft Status
Fort, LJ LB 1/3/1990 12 CFA
Dangerfield, Jordan FS 12/25/1990 13 CFA
Nix, Roosevelt FB 3/30/1992 14 CFA
Toussaint, Fitzgerald RB 5/4/1990 14 CFA
Boswell, Chris K 3/16/1991 14 CFA
Shabazz, Al-Hajj CB 8/2/1992 15 CFA

The most notable names of the above six players are starting fullback Rosie Nix and kicker Chris Boswell. Nix was a defensive tackle in college who was undersized for the pros. The Atlanta Falcons initially gave him a shot before the Steelers scooped him up and converted him to playing fullback. Boswell entered the Houston Texans camp several seasons ago but didn’t come away with a job.

Vanilla Free Agents & Other Castoffs

I wasn’t sure what else to call them, but these are the guys who usually make waves when free agency begins.

Player Pos DOB Draft Status
Heyward-Bey, Darrius WR 2/26/1987 09 01 007
Mitchell, Mike S 6/10/1987 09 02 047
Alualu, Tyson DE 5/12/1987 10 01 010
Moats, Arthur LB 3/14/1988 10 06 178
Green, Ladarius TE 5/29/1990 12 04 110
Sensabaugh, Coty CB 11/15/1988 12 04 115
Hunter, Justin WR 5/20/1991 13 02 034
Davis, Knile RB 10/5/1991 13 03 096
Hamilton, Cobi WR 11/13/1990 13 06 197
Cockrell, Ross CB 8/6/1991 14 04 109
Mettenberger, Zach QB 7/16/1991 14 06 178
Johnson, Steven LB 3/28/1988 12 CFA
Grimble, Xavier TE 9/22/1992 14 CFA
Villanueva, Alejandro T 9/22/1988 14 SFA

Cobi Hamilton and Xavier Grimble show up on this list having bounced around from a number of teams (particularly their practice squads) before finding a home in Pittsburgh last season.Mike Mitchell and Ladarius Green are among the highest profile free agent signings the Steelers have made in years. This offseason, Pittsburgh added depth by signing several free agents such as WR Justin Hunter, CB Coty Sensabaugh, RB Knile Davis and DE Tyson Alualu.

Alejandro Villanueva also headlines the list. A street free agent in 2014, Big Al signed with the Philadelphia Eagles to play defensive end, before becoming a successful left tackle conversion project in Pittsburgh.

Ross Cockrell cleared waivers after being released by the Bills, while Zach Mettenberger is lumped into this category because I got a little too lazy to add “waiver additions” in its own table. (Just being honest!) He was a free agent who signed with the Chargers last season before being released and claimed off the waiver wire by the Steelers.

Arthur Moats and Darrius Heyward-Bey are both rugged veterans who have served the Steelers well in reserve roles.

Conclusion

For a team who typically builds through the draft, the Steelers currently have 13 free agents. (You can add Mettenberger as a waiver claim addition.)

I’d rather say the Steelers attempt to make the most with players who are overlooked by other teams. Six college free agents who started elsewhere, combined with nine of their own undrafted finds makes for a batch of 15 “unwanted” players. Those players include several starters and key situational players as well as special teamers like Berry, Boswell, and Warren.

However, the meat of the Steelers team is still made up of those players taken in the NFL Draft. At the end of the month, the franchise has eight selections to use, barring any trades which would increase/decrease those numbers. A Martavis Bryant reinstatement would also skew the current number of 26 homegrown players taken in the draft to a hypothetical 35 (Bryant, and if all eight rookies make the team, which is a stretch of course).

Count the 15 players who were taken on when no one else wanted them, and the Steelers are nearly made up of all internal finds with very few outsiders.

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