Steelers 53-man roster prediction and trend analysis

The Steelers preseason is over and Week 1 is right around the corner!

For the Steelers coaching staff, they more than likely have a good idea of who will and won’t be making the final 53-man roster. For us fans and writers, however, all we can do is try and predict this list.

When making a prediction, one of the best things you can do is look to the past. I decided to do this for the Steelers 53-man roster and pulled all the position counts over the past four years to try and paint a clearer picture of what we can expect.

Steelers 53-man roster position counts from 2013-2016

 2016 2015 2014 2013
QB 3 3 3 3
 RB 4 4 4 5
 TE 3 3 3 5
WR 5 5 6 5
OL 9 8 9 8
DL 6 6 6 6
ILB 5 5 5 5
OLB 5 5 3 3
CB 5 6 6 5
S 5 5 5 5
ST 3 3 3 3

Position breakdown


The Steelers always keep three quarterbacks and that isn’t likely to change this year.

Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, and Josh Dobbs are the guys.

Running back

For convenience, I combined running back and fullback into a single category.

The team appears to be fairly consistent with holding three running backs and one fullback. The question doesn’t lie in how many running backs they keep, but who all they keep.

Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, and Roosevelt Nix are all locks to make this roster. The third spot appears to belong to Fitzgerald Toussaint because of his experience and special teams ability, but free agent signing Terrell Watson has impressed during the preseason and could be pushing for that spot.

Wide receiver

The Steelers normally keep five wide receivers but have kept six if they have to. This appears to be one of those years the team will be keeping six given the depth at the position.

The locks appear to be Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

The final spot appears to be between Sammie Coates and Justin Huster, two players with similar profiles. The edge likely goes to Coates given his special teams ability and experience with the team, but it’s also worth noting that Roethlisberger has been an advocate for Hunter throughout the preseason. A sleeper to watch out for though is Demarcus Ayers because of his potential as a punt returner.

Tight end

The tight end position got a big shake up recently when the Steelers traded for San Francisco 49ers tight end Vance McDonald. Over recent years the Steelers have kept three tight ends and that trend likely will continue, especially when the Steelers clearly were not happy with the depth at the position and felt the need to trade for someone new.

Jesse James and Vance McDonald will lead this group, with the third spot going to either David Johnson or Xavier Grimble.

Johnson excels at blocking and has the versatility to play fullback but is limited athletically. Grimble has greater upside as a playmaker but hasn’t proven to be consistent. This battle basically comes down to which side of the coin the Steelers prefer, but my money would be on Johnson.

Offensive line

The offensive line group will come down to how many the Steelers want to keep. They’ve varied between eight and nine in recent years, and this year it could go either way.

The eight seemed to be locked in with Alejandro Villaneuva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Chris Hubbard, B.J. Finney, and Jerald Hawkins. None of those players should come as surprises.

The wild card player appears to be Matt Feiler. Feiler has been on the Steelers practice squad for two years now and is now out of eligibility, meaning he can no longer be on the practice squad. However, he’s impressed during training camp and preseason and the coaching staff is reportedly fans of his, so it’s entirely possible he makes it on the roster as the ninth offensive lineman.

Defensive line

Minus quarterback, the defensive line may be the least exciting group regarding competition. They’ve kept six every year and there are no signs of that trend being broken.

Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu, and L.T. Walton are all locks.

While in past years Daniel McCullers has owned the sixth spot, he’s failed to generate any buzz recently and will more than likely be cut. It’s looking like the sixth spot will go to second-year player Johnny Maxey.

Inside linebacker

While the Steelers have consistently kept five inside linebackers over the years, it’s hard to tell if that trend will continue this season. This has partly to do with the depth at other positions along with the unspectacular depth.

The four apparent locks are Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, and L.J. Fort.

The next man up if they do keep five would be Steven Johnson. Johnson’s primary value on the roster would be special teams, so when weighing the decision the team must determine if that value is worth more than keeping extra wide receiver, cornerbacks, or offensive lineman.

Outside linebacker

As of recently, the Steelers began to keep more outside linebackers on the roster. This is seemingly due to the lack of clear-cut starters over the years and the use of rotations. While the rotation is allegedly finished, the Steelers will likely keep five at the position.

The five includes James Harrison, Bud Dupree, TJ Watt, Anthony Chickillo, and Arthur Moats.

While all of these players are a fairly safe bet to make the roster, the only potential wild card is Moats. It’s conceivable that the team trades or cuts Moats in order to save cap space and/or open up a spot on the roster. The reasoning behind this idea is sound for Moats is capable of playing in this league, but is projected to be our fifth outside linebacker on the depth chart.

Don’t bet on it, but don’t count out the idea.


Now we get to the most difficult projection on this team… predicting the cornerback depth chart was tricky enough, and then the Steelers decided to throw a wrench in everyone’s predictions and signed veteran Joe Haden. Recent trends say that the team will only keep five or six cornerbacks, but that may not be the case this year…

I predict we will be keeping seven cornerbacks on the roster: Artie Burns, Joe Haden, William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Coty Sensabaugh, Cam Sutton, and Mike Hilton.

My reasoning is that the Steelers have kept eleven total defensive backs before – six cornerbacks and five safeties – and given the team’s lack of safety depth they may only keep four (spoilers for the next section). This opens the door for a seventh cornerback, especially when considering they have toyed with players like Gay being used as a cornerback/safety hybrid in dime formations.

Brian Allen is unfortunately the odd-man out, but ideally he makes it to the practice squad. Hilton seems to be the obvious choice to be cut if they do keep six, but given his success in camp and preseason I feel the team will want to hold on to him.


As mentioned previously, I predict the Steelers buck recent trends and keep four safeties.

Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden, and Jordan Dangerfield are likely the guys.

If they do keep five, the player would be Jacob Hagen. While he’s played admirably, Hagen doesn’t really bring much to the table that Golden and Dangerfield don’t already. He’s a prime candidate to sit on the practice squad and continue to develop. Rather than keeping five safeties, the Steelers might be allocating that defensive back spot to a cornerback.

Special teams

If you were hoping for the Steelers to keep two long snappers, I hate to disappoint you…

Kicker Chris Boswell, punter Jordan Berry, and long snapper Colin Holba all have their jobs locked in and aren’t going anywhere.

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