We have now entered the season of predictions and speculation. Before the Steelers even enter training camp and position battles are fought, a lot of us are pondering what the final roster may look like come the beginning of September.
I’m not different, and seeing as there aren’t very many holes to fill from the 2018 Steelers roster, the makeup of this year’s team will be different, but not drastically altered in terms of the players they retain.
Here are some of my thoughts on who will make the final cut, along with some commentary on position battles to watch.
Ben Roethlisberger, Joshua Dobbs, Mason Rudolph
Nothing too crazy here. The camp battle will obviously be for the backup position behind Roethlisberger, as I imagine Rudolph will get an opportunity to compete in year two.
Running Backs (4)
James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Roosevelt Nix
This list is a no-brainer and will be an uphill battle for any other back to fight for a roster spot. I don’t even have a true “battle” here because I anticipate Benny Snell starting out at the bottom of the ladder due to his rookie status.
Rosy Nix is a former Pro Bowl fullback who will have little to no competition as he brings incredible special teams value as well.
Wide Receivers (6)
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer, Diontae Johnson
I would be shocked if the Steelers moved on from any of the names listed.
JuJu is the defacto WR1. Moncrief was paid a tidy sum to move to Pittsburgh as a free agent. James Washington, a 2018 second round pick, looked like a star in the making last offseason and will have more chances to get the ball thrown his way with Antonio Brown gone.
Two slot receivers found themselves on the field simultaneously last season; I don’t anticipate the team moving on from Switzer (who they traded for to open 2018) or Rogers (who they signed for two years).
Johnson will have to work his way into a crowded room as the rookie. Watch for him in camp as I expect the Steelers to utilize him all over the field.
Tight Ends (3)
Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
A position with razor-thin depth, I could see the team making a move here just as they did to acquire McDonald two seasons ago, unless someone else emerges in camp.
Offensive Linemen (9)
Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, Derwin Gray
Three Pro Bowlers and a host of veterans round out this unit. The right tackle job is up for grabs. Feiler started there, but will be the competition to watch from camp with he, Banner, Okorafor, Jerald Hawkins, and rookie Derwin Gray all getting looks to replace Marcus Gilbert.
In my opinion, Hawkins’ injury history slowed his development and could make him the odd man out.
Defensive Linemen (6)
Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Javon Hargrave, Daniel McCullers, Isaiah Buggs
With only L.T. Walton’s spot vacated, the door is open for the rookie Buggs to step in.
Dan McCullers was brought back and still serves a valuable role on special teams. He showed enough progress last season to merit another year to show if he can be the monster that matches his size.
If not, keep an eye on Casey Sayles, a former AAF player who was in the Steelers camp before, and practice squad vet Lavon Hooks as names who could steal one of the final spots on the roster.
Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Sutton Smith, Devin Bush,Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Tyler Matakevich, Ulysses Gilbert
This position group fluctuates between eight and ten players on the roster at times. With a slew of new faces, I believe they all have an opportunity to make the final cut.
Tyler Matakevich’s spot is most in jeopardy. Should the Steelers feel comfortable enough with rookie sixth round pick Gilbert, they could trim a player here to make room elsewhere.
Mark Barron was signed from the Rams during free agency and has experience at the safety position. His versatility could ease having one or two less defensive backs on the roster.
Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne
All of the names here should be locks for the roster.
The one I struggled with the most is Artie Burns. His fall from grace as a former first round pick is alarming and even with a strong camp, he could be traded or released.
I can’t see the Steelers trimming a linebacker or a lineman on either side of the ball for a “what if” scenario to keep a sixth cornerback. Layne was drafted to watch and learn, leaving the writing on the wall for Burns and former fifth round pick Brian Allen.
A thin but experienced group, the Steelers have far too many players they invested in during the draft to relinquish a spot for a fifth safety. (More on that below.)
Mike Tomlin has also stated that in a pinch, Cameron Sutton or Mike Hilton could play the position. We also know Mark Barron started his pro career as a safety.
That leaves more than enough insurance to only roster four players at this position.
I won't call any of these three spots locks, but Boswell's contract and a rumored 2018 injury make his the most safe of the three.
The Steelers will bring competition to camp for all of these players. I haven't seen enough of Ian Berryman or a college free agent "tight end" Trevor Wood, who is also a long snapper, to speak as to whether they could make the team.
I would compare Berry vs. Berryman to possibly be like Brad Wing vs. Berry several years ago, however. This is also a camp battle to watch.
Ten To Watch
The following ten players will have an opportunity to make the 53-man roster but could be on the outside looking in. Keep an eye on them during camp: I chose these ten as my "way too early" practice squad, including Locke, who could provide some more security with a lack of numbers at the safety position.
Full 53-man Roster Breakdown