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.
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.
- Antonio Brown
- JuJu Smith-Schuster
- James Washington
- Darrius Heyward-Bey
- Justin Hunter
- Ryan Switzer
- Eli Rogers (PUP)
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)
- Maurkice Pouncey
- David DeCastro
- Ramon Foster
- Alejandro Villanueva
- Marcus Gilbert
- B.J. Finney
- Chukwuma Okorafor
- Matt Feiler
- Jerald Hawkins (IR)
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.
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.
- Bud Dupree
- T.J. Watt
- Vince Williams
- Jon Bostic
- Anthony Chickillo
- Tyler Matakevich
- Keion Adams
- Matthew Thomas
- Olasunkanmi Adeniyi
- Ryan Shazier (IR)
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.
- Joe Haden
- Artie Burns
- Mike Hilton
- Cameron Sutton
- Coty Sensabaugh
- Brian Allen
- Sean Davis
- Morgan Burnett
- Terrell Edmunds
- Nat Berhe
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.
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.)
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