Joe Kuzma’s 2018 Steelers 53-man roster projection

The preseason has end and now it’s time to decide who stays, and who goes.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with 31 other NFL teams, will trim their rosters from 90 players down to 53 (with up to 10 returning on the practice squad).

This season’s roster projection was much more difficult than prior years. The Steelers have very little holes on their roster and unlike two or three seasons ago, they have starters entrenched in their positions once again. (Just think, they had three rookies start on defense back in 2016!)

Without further ado, here are my personal predictions for the Steelers 53-man roster to start Week 1. Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know yours!

Note: Players in italics will initially make the 53-man roster but may be released to make room for someone else. Injured players also in italics where noted.

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Quarterbacks (4)

Let’s start with the hottest offseason/preseason topic: will the Steelers keep four quarterbacks?

I believe they will. Releasing Joshua Dobbs will expose him to the waiver claim system. The only way the Steelers would be willing to do that, in my opinion, is if they can get something from him via a trade. (Hey Jon Gruden, why not give us more picks or players?)

A team with an aging quarterback and a backup quality-only passer behind him can ill afford to get this decision wrong. Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL and the Steelers may have two excellent young prospects waiting in the wings for when Big Ben decides to retire. With signal callers all but a sure thing (see: Cleveland) Pittsburgh may be sacrificing a spot somewhere else on the roster, but keeping all four QBs means they won’t be mortgaging their future as a franchise.

Running Backs (4)

If Le’Veon Bell doesn’t sign his franchise tender by Saturday, Fitzgerald Toussaint will once again make the cut and be on the active roster… until Bell signs before their first game, that is. (Which is why he is italicized, because he will factor in as one of the four until Bell signs. I then anticipate that Toussaint will be added to the practice squad.)

I don’t get a sense that the Steelers keep Stevan Ridley as an additional back, due to keeping an extra player at other positions (such as quarterback). Traditionally they would keep a fullback and an H-back: Samuels will be the versatile back this time, but unlike Will Johnson or David Johnson, he’s also capable of carrying the football, reducing the need for an extra spot on the roster.

Receivers (6)

The Steelers are once again rich at the receiver position due to savvy veteran contracts, excellent draft evaluations and a smooth trade just days earlier for Ryan Switzer, who should keep star players Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster on the sidelines during kick and punt returns, rather than in harm’s way!

Therefore, those three are instantly locks to make the team, as is second-round pick James Washington.

Some may scoff at keeping Darrius Hewyard-Bey, but he’s so incredibly valuable on special teams that his position is safe (at least for now). DHB also provides a backup vertical threat and is a good blocker when playing on offense, further increasing his value.

Justin Hunter could be a surprise cut, as he impresses as much as he disappoints. His spot is anything but safe, but I believe he makes the 53 and will have to fight to retain his job over a practice squad receiver, or Eli Rogers, who may not be eligible to come off of the Physically Unable to Perform list until midway through the season.

Tight Ends (3)

Despite adding Bucky Hodges this offseason, the Steelers will only keep three tight ends. Vance Macdonald and Jesse James should be good to go for the season opener, though there’s still speculation each is nursing injuries and will have limited availability at this time. However, that shouldn’t see either cut from the team.

The wildcard is Xavier Grimble who has a broken finger. He too should heal soon, but is already at the bottom of a volatile position. If the Steelers need a tight end on game day, Grimble would be the first to go from this group.

Offensive Line (8)

As an adjustment for keeping four quarterbacks and six receivers, the Steelers will only retain eight offensive linemen to start the year. Another reason for that is due to the injury of T Jerald Hawkins, who is currently on IR.

Since the team only has eight linemen active on game days, I don’t expect them to keep more on the roster. That means a few new faces added for training camp will make the practice squad to shore up any injury concerns during the season.

Outside of the five starters, there’s little shock value here: B.J. Finney is the primary backup at guard and center, Matt Feiler made the 53 last season, and Okorafor is a rookie who doubles as the primary backup at tackle.

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Defensive Line (6)

The Steelers brought Dan McCullers back on a one-year deal, and while I feel he’s expendable, he’s shown just enough to make the cut.

The others are the usual suspects: Heyward, Tuitt, and Hargrave

Alualu was a tremendous backup last season and L.T. Walton has shown growth each time he’s stepped onto the field.

I don’t see much reason for the Steelers to have more than six players rostered here, as other positions require more depth. More than likely their depth players on the D-line will be on the practice squad.

Linebackers (9)

Replacing Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker is still fresh in everyone’s minds, as it should be: he’s a Pro Bowl level player who can’t be easily replaced.

While the signing of Jon Bostic was supposed to lessen that blow, it’s clear he’s not the final answer. Tyler Matakevich is loved by the coaching staff and a special teams ace, but he too isn’t the answer next to Vince Williams.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert mentioned the team may still add pieces and I fully expect them to do so. While undrafted rookie Matthew Thomas has been nothing short of incredible in preseason action thus far, I don’t see the team gambling on his play translating to the regular season. If it does, that would be great. If it doesn’t, it could have disastrous consequences for the Steelers D.

That’s why Adeniyi makes the team initially. He’s had some great pass-rush prowess this preseason and offers a lot more upside than L.J. Fort. Fort won’t make the 53 and will lie in wait as to whether the team requires help on the inside into the early season. Adenyi will be released and added back to the practice squad following the waiver claim process and other teams trimming down to 53. Look for the Steelers to add another linebacker on Sunday or Monday.

Secondary (10)

The Steelers kept six corners last year, and I didn’t see it happening for 2018, but it will. That’s because the position has been a thorn in the team’s side for so many years that can’t afford to get this wrong.

Haden and Burns re the obvious starters, with Hilton and Sutton as backups who primarily play in the slot but can also play on the outside if necessary. Hilton and Sutton have also dabbled playing safety during camp, which is why the team will forego rostering five players, including fifth-round draft pick Marcus Allen who has struggled with injuries this preseason.

I expect Allen to be placed on IR for 2018.

The other Allen, Brian Allen, is a special teams cog. He’s the DHB of the defense, not as a veteran, but as a physical player who can play on the defense in a pinch, but more than likely won’t. I also believe he has more upside than Coty Sensabaugh.

Sensabaugh, like Justin Hunter with the receivers, will be retained as veteran depth. He’s done just enough “good” than “bad” to make the cut.

Nat Berhe will edge out Jordan Dangerfield for the final safety spot, as Berhe is more the more valuable special teamer.

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Specialists (3)

Again, no surprises here.

There isn’t much to comment on (yes, even the “punter competition”) Jordan Berry would have to monumentally screw up in the final preseason game to even make the team consider moving on from him in favor of Matt Wile. However, that doesn’t mean the team won’t acquire someone cut from another roster following the initial announcement of the 53-man roster. (You’ve been warned.)

Conclusion

As you can see I’ve made it possible for the team to keep its bounty of talented players. You’re probably wondering what happens to some of the other camp phenoms now? Well, stay tuned as the second part of this article will explore the ten men who will be named to the practice squad.

Full Final Roster Prediction

# POS NAME
1 QB Ben Roethlisberger
2 QB Landry Jones
3 QB Joshua Dobbs
4 QB Mason Rudolph
5 RB Le’Veon Bell
6 RB James Conner
7 RB Jaylen Samuels
8 RB Roosevelt Nix
9 WR Antonio Brown
10 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
11 WR James Washington
12 WR Justin Hunter
13 WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
14 WR Ryan Switzer
15 TE Vance McDonald
16 TE Jesse James
17 TE Xavier Grimble
18 OL Maurkice Pouncey
19 OL David DeCastro
20 OL Ramon Foster
21 OL Alejandro Villanueva
22 OL Marcus Gilbert
23 OL B.J. Finney
24 OL Chukwuma Okorafor
25 OL Matt Feiler
26 DL Cameron Heyward
27 DL Stephon Tuitt
28 DL Javon Hargrave
29 DL Tyson Alualu
30 DL L.T. Walton
31 DL Dan McCullers
32 LB Bud Dupree
33 LB T.J. Watt
34 LB Vince Williams
35 LB Jon Bostic
36 LB Anthony Chickillo
37 LB Tyler Matakevich
38 LB Keion Adams
39 LB Matthew Thomas
40 LB TBD
41 CB Joe Haden
42 CB Artie Burns
43 CB Mike Hilton
44 CB Cameron Sutton
45 CB Coty Sensabaugh
46 CB Brian Allen
47 S Sean Davis
48 S Morgan Burnett
49 S Terrell Edmunds
50 S Nat Berhe
51 K Chris Boswell
52 P Jordan Berry
53 LS Kameron Canaday

7 responses to “Joe Kuzma’s 2018 Steelers 53-man roster projection”

  1. Scott Evans says:

    There is no way the Steelers keep 4 Quarterbacks on the roster. We are talking about a potential 3rd string quarterback for the next few years, and some people are worried about him being claimed? About half of the NFL only goes with 2 quarterbacks, with the 3rd QB on the practice squad. Joshua Dobbs will be released, and he will look to join the practice squad of a team with only 2 QBs, allowing him to get the reps he needs. He is starting tomorrow night because the Steelers are a class organization, and want him to get as much tape as possible, so other teams can have an interest in him.

    LJ Fort will make the squad over Taylor Matakevich. He is the better athlete, will be used in more pass defenses like the new dollar formation, and has a higher ceiling.

    There are 10 DBs on your list, and I expect all 10 to make the 53-man roster.

    And there will be no major signings after cut down day. The only position that could see a swap is at OLB, but most teams don’t give up on pass rushers, and that is what we would be looking for. I would rather have an upside young cheap player like Adams than a work out journeyman who will be looking for a job on Monday.

    • Joe Kuzma says:

      I have another article about keeping all four which puts it into a better perspective. I’m not so sure Landry Jones is here next year (though as a fan of his, I’d prefer keeping him for the next 2-3 years while Rudolph works his way into the backup role). However, if Jones is not a part of the team’s future plans or they want to kick the can for a year (and play this same scenario out next preseason) they can better evaluate Dobbs and Rudolph and decide if they want to keep one or both (with both meaning Jones is the odd man out).

      L.J. Fort has run his course. When they signed Sean Spence off of his couch and tried converting Arthur Moats to ILB that tells me all I need to know. Fort has been released and re-signed multiple times over the last several years. He’s the new Ross Ventrone. Unfortunately, Fort’s practice squad eligibility with the Steelers is up. He could make the cut, but I wouldn’t put him over Ola.

      I have Adams making the team. It’s the UDFA Adeniy (Ola) that will head to the practice squad.

      Thanks for the great comment. It’s going to be an interesting Friday/Saturday for sure!

      • Scott Evans says:

        Jones may or may not be here next year. That really isn’t the debate. If the Steelers were so confident that Dobbs was a future starter, that wouldn’t have invested a 3rd pick this year on Rudolph. Those last few roster spots are crucial for keeping a developmental player you think can be special down the road, The 3rd QB is typically the one running the scout team, with Ben and Landry getting all the reps with the 1’s. If you keep 4 QBs, you are then cutting into the development of Rudolph, who would have to split the limited snaps he has now.

        I wouldn’t necessarily look at the end of the year when evaluating Fort. With the Shazier injury, it appears to me that the entire Steelers defense is going to look a lot different in passing situations, and I think that is where Fort excels over Matakevich. With the Dollar and “Seminole” packages they are rolling out, I think that plays into the strengths of both Fort and Thomas. Matakevich may be a Special Teams star, but if you are only carrying 4 ILBs, you cannot afford to have one that cannot play in these smaller, faster schemes.

        • Joe Kuzma says:

          Jones runs the scout team, so I’m not sure what division of labor there is for even a 3rd QB, which is why most teams won’t roster one. It all depends on the situation. When Tom Brady was serving a suspension the Patriots finally kept a 3rd, otherwise they usually keep 2. A lot of teams operate like that and I totally understand that.

          However, you can’t bank on Rudolph being the future. They drafted Dobbs for a reason, but also had Rudolph as their best available on the board. They jumped at the chance. The Redskins drafted two quarterbacks in the same season with RG3 and Cousins too. So we can’t necessarily read into that, when Cousins ended up being the guy years later. (Aside from the contract issues they had.)

          The new subpackages will be staffed with defensive backs, not linebackers. That’s why I have ten listed. Hilton and Sutton have been dabbling at the position too. Edmunds could be the Week 1 starter. I have no idea if Burnett will be healthy but he’ll be out there. Relying on Matthew Thomas this early is a gamble. I agree Fort is athletic and I personally like him, but I feel the team sees his ceiling and he his role is easily replaced by the younger, more athletic Thomas.

          I honestly didn’t cut from the linebackers to make a case for 4 QBs either. I took a RB and an offensive lineman out of the equation. Usually the 9th lineman is inactive on game days and they have 2 they can put on the practice squad (that article coming tomorrow) that will be in no danger of being picked up by another team versus losing Dobbs and getting nothing in return if they don’t trade him before the deadline.

  2. Dave Dubois says:

    I like the easy you think Joe. I’ve been trying to figure out how they keep all four QBs. I know it’s unconventional, but as you stated, a backup with a backup arm (and also in the final year of his contract!l). I like your roster construction.

  3. Imperial Destroyer says:

    I think Ola makes the 53. Also, I think they drafted Dobbs to replace Jones when his time in Pittsburgh ends, and Rudolph for when Ben’s time ends. Jones looks like the even man out, but not until next year. JMO

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