The Steelers have agreed to terms with 13 rookie free agents, following the conclusion of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Below is a list of the 13 rookie free agents, along with some analysis on their college playing days and their (long) shot to potentially make the final roster.
Parker Cothren, DT, Penn State
6-4 295 lbs.
A two-year starter at Penn State, Cothren earned an honorable-mention for All-Big Ten in 2017. He was voted the team's outstanding defensive linemen by his peers after recording 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last season.
Cothren projects to be a camp body who will have to fight for a roster spot, even if that spot should be on the practice squad. He may find a niche role if seventh-round pick Joshua Frazier or veteran Dan McCullers fail to impress in training camp.
Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan
6-0 239 lbs.
Franklin's college accolades include being named Freshman All-American and becoming the first player to win both MAC Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. He was a MAC first-team selection his senior season.
This year's Terrell Watson will also attempt to stick to the 53-man roster. Like the previous "nightmare" in 2017, Franklin is the definition of a bruising back. It will be intriguing to see if he has a legitimate shot at making the team with James Conner, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Stevan Ridley, and newcomer Jaylen Samuels on the current depth chart, which would exponentially shift downward if there's ever movement on Le'Veon Bell's contract status.
Greg Gilmore, DE, LSU
6-4 308 lbs.
A two-year starter at nose tackle at LSU, Gilmore projects to be more 3-4 end than nose tackle in the pros. Like Cothren, he will be hard-pressed to carve out a niche during camp behind a talented logjam of defensive ends including last year's sack leader, Cameron Heyward.
If Gilmore flashes he could be a developmental player who sticks to the practice squad for a season or two, while he attempts to realize his potential at the next level.
Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh
5-8 190 lbs.
A receiver on the smaller side of the spectrum, Henderson led the FBS in with 1,166 total return yards in 2016. His return averages were top five in both kick and punt returns.
He would project to make the roster based on the Steelers current depth in the return game, and the health of another smaller and previously undrafted receiver, Eli Rogers.
Trey Johnson, CB, Villanova
5-11 161 lbs.
Playing with what is a smaller program in college football (as opposed to their monster basketball program) Johnson stood out at Villanova as an athletic playmaker. He racked up 123 tackles, four interceptions and 29 passes defensed in 46 total games during the span of his college career.
Fast and a natural ballhawk, Johnson could be this year's Mike Hilton in camp. Unlike Hilton, however, the secondary is vastly improved with little opportunity to make the final 53. However, Johnson is a player we should all keep our eyes on.
Pharoah McKever, TE, North Carolina State
6-6 259 lbs.
A transfer from NC State, McKever had 27 receptions for 301 yards and three touchdowns for Florida International in 2017. He was redshirted in 2013 at NC State, but would only catch a single pass over the next three seasons with the Wolfpack.
McKever has intriguing size but lacks any real college production other than his raw physical attributes to project at more than a camp body.
Sadly, he may have an uphill battle just to make it beyond the Steelers rookie minicamp.
Patrick Morris, C, TCU
6-3 300 lbs.
Everywhere you look, Morris is described as an athletic "freak". A three-time First-Team Academic All-Big 12, Morris was also named to the AP All-Bowl Team and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in 2017.
The impressive lineman is listed as a center but also has collegiate experience as a left guard. He could settle into a role similar to what B.J. Finney did several years ago and eventually work his way into a main roster spot the same, as Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster begin to get up in age.
Ikenna Nwokeji, OL, Elon
6-6 282 lbs.
Coming from tiny Elon University, Nwokeji is another small school prospect with a lot of suspense surrounding him. He initially entered college football as a defensive lineman but transferred to the offensive side of the ball where he started all 45 games. He was named the team's Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in his first year playing the position in 2014 then followed that up by being named Most Outstanding Offensive Player in 2015 and team captain in 2016 and will give professional football a shot this summer.
Chris Schleuger, G, UAB
6-4 304 lbs.
If Morris appears to be the next Finney, Schleuger could be the next Chris Hubbard. His experience includes playing both tackle and guard.
Schleuger started at Iowa Western Community College then paved the way for not one, but two 1,000 yard rushers at Northern Iowa before finishing up his collegiate career at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
He likely has more question marks than others coming to camp, but his versatility is a must for reserve offensive linemen in the NFL. It could be the key to making the team's practice squad.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, LB, Toledo
6-1 248 lbs.
A hybrid defensive end and linebacker at Toledo, Adeniyi garnered second-team All-MAC honors after starting 13 games in 2017 and racking up 20 tackles for loss with 8.5 sacks.
Adeniyi has an opportunity to make the team based on a lack of linebackers drafted by the Steelers this season. However, he has a long road to travel in both size and technique to supplant one of the names ahead of him.
Jamar Summers, CB, UCONN
6-0 190 lbs.
Summers is another versatile defensive back being added to the Steelers roster this offseason. A tackling machine who saw starting time as a cornerback and safety at UCONN, he may have the same uphill battle fighting for a roster spot as Johnson, but has the upper hand in the size department.
Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
6-3 232 lbs.
It's not often you can call a player a "redshirt junior".
Name an off-field problem and Thomas has had it:
- Injury? (Yes.)
- Death of family member? (Yes.)
- Failed drug test? (Yes.)
- Violation of team rules? (Yes.)
- Academically ineligible? (Yes.)
All of those checkboxes may make you wonder why Thomas is here: here's here because those checkboxes made him practically undraftable. There may be some valid reasons for some of those bullet points influencing the others, which gives Thomas the benefit of the doubt (but perhaps not enough to warrant using a draft pick on him).
Thomas projects to play inside linebacker, a position Pittsburgh is in desperate need of depth-wise. However, it appears that Thomas' natural instincts are lacking and his physical traits are what got him in the NFL door. If he can keep his head straight and is coachable, there's a load of potential for him to excel at the next level.
I do believe that the Steelers wouldn't have taken a chance on Thomas if they didn't feel the same way. The loss of his mother, especially, sounds like another young Steeler Artie Burns. In this respect, maybe the team has some insight on Thomas that others don't, based on their pre-draft talks with the linebacker.
Kendal Vickers, DE, Tennessee
6-3 295 lbs.
Versatility shows up again with the newly acquired Steelers. Vickers added size to convert from playing outside linebacker and defensive end to defensive tackle.
Over the last two seasons, he wrecked havoc on defenses with 108 total tackles, 13.5 TFL, and 4.5 sacks.
Vickers also forced three fumbles, but it's his toughness which has earned him a reputation. He has played in all of Tennesee's games over the last three seasons, including seven in 2015 where Vickers muscled through playing with a torn MCL.
He wasn't even aware he was hurt!
That type of mentality may harken to the old school NFL days, which means Vickers may have the advantage of being more of a throwback than his peers.