Brian Roach’s 2018 Steelers 53-man roster projection

To quote the Clash, it’s time for Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff to look at each player and decide “Should I Stay or Should I Go”.

The Steelers find themselves in a situation where they actually have some decisions to make. While the vast majority of the 53-man roster is pretty much set, there are a few positional battles that may require Tomlin and the gang to think outside the box.

Let’s take a stab at how the 53-man roster may look once the dust settles.

Defensive Line (6)

#GrownAssMan Cam Heyward is a lock for this roster, as are Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, and L.T. Walton. The only real question is whether Dan McCullers did enough to secure his spot over the other potential D line candidates.

I think he did. We started to see a little bit of “nasty” creep into McCullers game. Maybe he’ll finally understand that being a huge mountain of a man isn’t enough if you don’t have the attitude to back it up.

It’s not just that McCullers was a little better than he has been, it’s also that no one else really did enough to distinguish themselves. Josh Frazier, the sixth-round pick, will likely find a home on the practice squad giving him time to develop so it looks like McCullers has done enough to earn one more year to show he is progressing.

Embed from Getty Images

Linebackers (10)

Let’s look at the outside linebackers first. Obviously, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree are in, and Chickillo is the primary backup on either side. The battler here is between Keion Adams and Ola Adeniyi. Of everyone in camp, Ola has probably shown the purest pass rushing skills and has consistently been a disruptive player whenever he’s been in the game. Keion Adams has been better in run support, and neither are great in coverage yet. The question is can they keep both, or only one?

I think the Steelers will initially opt to keep both on the 53, but their long-term viability on the roster may depend heavily on who is discarded off of other teams’ rosters. It’s possible one or both could end up on the practice squad if another pass rusher becomes available. Hey, maybe they’ll trade for Khalil Mack (he said with as much sarcasm as he could fit into text).

On the inside, well, you simply don’t replace someone like Ryan Shazier. Jon Bostic, well, at least he’s not Sean Spence. I hope he’ll get better as the season goes on and he becomes more acclimated to the defense. Regardless, Williams, Matakevich, and Bostic are all going to make the team. The surprise add will be Mathew Thomas. Thomas has performed above the line all preseason and wherever they have put him. He’s not ready to start, but he’s done more than enough to be an asset and a contributor on both special teams and in sub-package football.

Keeping 10 is a stretch, and if there is no one that the Steelers find in the detritus of cut day it may well end up being only 9. Don’t be surprised if they add another player somehow and end up keeping 10.

Secondary (10)

Haden, Burns, Hilton, Sutton, Davis, Burnett and Edmunds are all givens. That’s seven guys right off the bat. Berhe will make the team as a special teams player over Jordan Dangerfield.

The question is what happens to Marcus Allen (fifth round pick) and do the Steelers keep both Brian Allen and Coty Sensabaugh. While Sensabaugh comes with some questions, he’s a veteran presence and that probably keeps him on the roster. The Steelers see enough potential in Brian Allen, who they drafted as a project, to keep him on the roster as well. That brings the total to 10 defensive backs and leaves Marcus Allen on the outside looking in.

Joe Kuzma has suggested that Allen may end up on IR for the year, and that is certainly a possibility. It’s either that or hope he falls through waivers and can be placed on the practice squad.

Quarterbacks (3)

This is the biggest question out there, and many are speculating that the Steelers will keep four quarterbacks. It doesn’t feel likely. What feels more possible is that Dobbs isn’t initially cut, but is somehow traded. This is a quarterback-driven league and Dobbs has shown real growth. If the Steelers can convince someone who might be interested in a backup or developmental quarterback and happens to be far down the list on the waiver wire, a trade could happen.

It wouldn’t be mind-blowing if the Steelers did keep four quarterbacks, but their needs elsewhere make it less likely.

Embed from Getty Images

Running Backs (4)

The initial 53 will not have Le’Veon Bell on it. That is a given. It’s also a given that the minute he signs his franchise tag someone will be cut to make room for him.

That person could be Stevan Ridley or it could be Fitzgerald Toussaint. James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Roosevelt Nix will make the roster. Samuels will never get through waivers to land on the practice squad and he’s shown enough as both a rushing threat as well as a pass catcher that his spot is safe.

The only question is who gets the Mr. Irrelevant nod here, and is a placeholder for Bell. Toussaint has probably had a better pre-season than Ridley, but going with the experienced vet might be the right move in the event that Bell does something crazy and decides not to show up for the first game (or even the first few).

Receivers (6)

The recent trade for Ryan Switzer makes this a less confusing choice than it might have been. Brown, Smith-Schuster, Washington, and Switzer are all givens. Darrius Heyward-Bey is too valuable as a veteran and special teams guy. Someone would have to really play him out of a job and that was not evident at this point.

Trey Griffey getting reps with the one’s in the third preseason game is interesting, and as we’ve discussed on the podcast there are two things you just can’t teach speed and height. Griffey is fast enough and at 6’3” has the height as well. Justin Hunter would likely be the victim if Griffey managed to make the 53, but he is more of a known quantity at this point than Griffey. Hunter likely makes the 53 and Griffey finds a spot on the practice squad.

Eli Rogers will almost certainly start on the PUP list and may end up transitioning to the IR or being released outright if Switzer shows he can be effective in the slot as well as returning the ball on kicks.

Tight Ends (3)

Full disclosure: I actually think Xavier Grimble might keep his spot. The injury and procedure he had on his finger may be the reason that he finds himself losing out to Bucky Hodges. It doesn’t feel like Hodges showed enough to play himself onto the roster, but with both McDonald and Grimble sidelined, it’s possible that Hodges hangs around for a game or two.

If Grimble is ready for week one, he probably keeps that spot.

Embed from Getty Images

Offensive Line (8)

The Steelers normally keep 9 offensive linemen. I don’t think they will this year. Pouncey, DeCastro, Foster, Villanueva, and Gilbert are locks, as is B.J. Finney and Chuks Okorafor. That’s seven right off the bat.

The injury to Jerald Hawkins means that the Steelers will have slightly less depth than normal, and Matt Feiler has hung around for a few years at this point. As is sometimes the case, the known quantity is more comfortable than the unknown. While R.J. Prince was making a case but mental mistakes in the third preseason game may mean his best shot is on the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

The Wizard of Boz just signed a nice new contract, and his steady, consistent kicking in the preseason leaves no doubt he’s the Steelers kicker for now. Canaday, after beating out a draft pick for the long snapper position is also a given.

Punter? It’s been interesting, but Jordan Berry probably still has the inside track, and while he’s had some bad ones in the preseason I’m not sure Matt Wile has done enough to supplant him. This group seems pretty set.


The Steelers are in good shape and have a bevy of talented players at most positions. They are so stacked at receiver that camp darlings like Damoun Patterson will find themselves with their only opportunity being on the practice squad.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps their dream alive and gives them a chance to stay around the team and grow at their craft. Below is my full 53 prediction. I look forward to the commentary!

Full Final Roster Prediction

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

Suggested articles from our sponsors