Predicting the Steelers initial 2019 53-man roster

It’s that time again folks, where the leaves are ready to fall and many young men will be out of a job in the NFL after attempting, and many succeeding, to win our hearts this offseason with their hard work.

These predictions are always difficult for me to do because they feel cold and callous: much like the actual business of pro football. Many good athletes will be released from their teams come 4 pm Saturday afternoon, which is the NFL’s annual deadline to trim rosters from 90 (or in the Steelers case, 91) down to 53.

With few exceptions, I do believe the Steelers roster is fairly cut and dry. Here is my attempt at filling out the 53 along with some comments on each position.

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Quarterbacks (3)

Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs

Mason Rudolph should get the nod as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. Despite a great showing by Devlin “Duck” Hodges, I don’t see him superseding Josh Dobbs this year unless a drastic trade or something else happens. (And unfortunately without many snaps to go around for passers during in-season practices, stashing Hodges on the practice squad might be a tough call too, though he’s certainly earned at least that much, in my opinion.)

Running Backs (4)

James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Roosevelt Nix

Even with a quiet preseason, Benny Snell is a shoe-in to make the team: I’ll discuss Trey Edmunds’ potential to stick to the practice squad below.

Wide Receivers (6)

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer, Diontae Johnson

I kept going back and forth on whether or not Diontae Spencer could crack the roster, but nothing short of a miracle game against the Panthers would’ve turned heads.

My casualty here should the team keep Spencer or only hold onto five receivers? Eli Rogers.

I have him listed because he’s a veteran and just inked an extension this offseason. That has to count for something…

Tight Ends (3)

Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry

Despite everyone thinking the team will do something different here, this is the lineup. Mainly because Rosie Nix and Jaylen Samuels will also be utilized in schemes where they block too.

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Offensive Linemen (9)

Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, Fred Johnson

The undrafted Fred Johnson will sneak onto the 53-man roster as the team shifts rookie Derwin Gray to the practice squad and says goodbye to oft-injured development project Jerald Hawkins, who just didn’t have luck or time on his side since being drafted several years ago.

Defensive Linemen (6)

Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Javon Hargrave, Daniel McCullers, Isaiah Buggs

Buggs has had a quiet preseason but there’s an opening for someone else to play special teams on the line as well as an extra defensive line spot vacated when L.T. Walton wasn’t re-signed this offseason. While there are a few candidates, I don’t believe those other names will be protected with a spot on the 53 such as Buggs will.

Linebackers (9)

Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Sutton Smith

Devin Bush,Vince Williams, Mark Barron, Ulysses Gilbert

Notice something missing?

This is where I did some trimming, initially thinking the Steelers could roster 10 bodies here. The question mark is with Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, who had an undisclosed surgery and has been out of the last couple of preseason games.

I’m betting on the time table for his return here, in which the Steelers may need more help at the edge position: especially if Anthony Chickillo isn’t ready to go either for Week 1. That would give Tuzar Skipper a nod for the initial 53, and to see if he is ready for a larger role. Of course, this assumes Ola goes to IR once again: if he doesn’t, Skipper’s lack of special teams snaps (exactly zero through the first three preseason games) means he’s the odd man out.

Speaking of special teams, Ulysees Gilbert will steal Tyler Matakevich’s spot on the roster as well.

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Cornerbacks (6)

Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Artie Burns, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne

With Brian Allen released due to an injury, the picture becomes clearer at the cornerback position. I wanted to save an extra spot for an offensive lineman or a linebacker here, perhaps even trimming a defensive line spot and demoting that to the practice squad to make room for all six cornerbacks, but ultimately that trim came with the linebackers.

Artie gets in with an improved offseason and his first round pedigree: he’s also been a demon on special teams and hasn’t looked all too bad getting a lot of first and second team reps on defense. Throw him in the slot sometimes and you have someone who is a larger player at that position who can help with any mismatches. I think he stays and this is likely my most controversial pick on the roster thus far.

Safeties (4)

Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, Marcus Allen, Kameron Kelly

I’m still not sold that Buggs is a shoe-in on the defensive line, which could open up a spot at safety for Jordan Dangerfield.

However, with Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton both taking snaps at the safety position, presumably for position flexibility as well as in the event of an emergency, I’d think the Steelers keep more corners and forego holding onto the veteran Dangerfield, who has always fought his way on and off of the roster for years and is no longer practice squad eligible to my knowledge.

Specialists (3)

Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday

With another long snapper coming mid-preseason, Canaday’s job is safe and Trevor Wood is relegated to only playing tight end: the latter a practice squad candidate.

Jordan Berry definitely won the punting job in Week 3, while a total collapse or cap savings move would be the only reason I see the Steelers moving on from Chris Boswell following Matthew Wright’s several misses in Thursday night’s loss to the Carolina Panthers.

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Full 53-man Roster Breakdown

# Pos Name
1 QB Ben Roethlisberger
2 QB Mason Rudolph
3 QB Joshua Dobbs
4 RB James Conner
5 RB Jaylen Samuels
6 RB Benny Snell
7 FB Roosevelt Nix
8 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
9 WR Donte Moncrief
10 WR James Washington
11 WR Eli Rogers
12 WR Ryan Switzer
13 WR Diontae Johnson
14 TE Vance McDonald
15 TE Xavier Grimble
16 TE Zach Gentry
17 OL Alejandro Villanueva
18 OL Ramon Foster
19 OL Maurkice Pouncey
20 OL David DeCastro
21 OL Matt Feiler
22 OL B.J. Finney
23 OL Chukwuma Okorafor
24 OL Zach Banner
25 OL Fred Johnson
26 DL Cameron Heyward
27 DL Stephon Tuitt
28 DL Tyson Alualu
29 DL Javon Hargrave
30 DL Daniel McCullers
31 DL Isaiah Buggs
32 LB Bud Dupree
33 LB T.J. Watt
34 LB Anthony Chickillo
35 LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi
36 LB Sutton Smith
37 LB Devin Bush
38 LB Vince Williams
39 LB Mark Barron
40 LB Ulysses Gilbert
41 CB Joe Haden
42 CB Steven Nelson
43 CB Artie Burns
44 CB Mike Hilton
45 CB Cameron Sutton
46 CB Justin Layne
47 S Sean Davis
48 S Terrell Edmunds
49 S Kameron Kelly
50 S Marcus Allen
51 K Chris Boswell
52 P Jordan Berry
53 LS Kameron Canaday


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Practice Squad

The following ten players will have an opportunity to make the 53-man roster but could be on the outside looking in. (Note: Christian Scotland-Williamson would be an exempt 11th player on the practice squad and ineligible to play in any games for 2019, if he’s kept as the team’s International Pathway Program player.)

# Pos Name
1 OL Derwin Gray
2 OL Patrick Morris
3 RB Trey Edmunds
4 WR Diontae Spencer
5 WR Trey Griffey
6 TE Kevin Rader
7 DL Casey Sayles
8 DL Henry Mondeaux
9 LB Robert Spillane
10 LB Tuzar Skipper
11 TE Christian Scotland-Williamson

4 responses to “Predicting the Steelers initial 2019 53-man roster”

  1. John Sofis says:

    Congratulations! You’re the first writer to suggest that the Steelers drop Matekevich in favor of a younger more athletic Ulysses Gilbert. However I don’t understand what you’ve seen from Sutton Smith to select him over Tuzar Skipper. In addition it seems Smith is more likely to make it to the practice squad, while most agree Skipper would be scooped up by another team.
    Personally I believe Holton is the only burner available and he’s shown four “splash” plays. If Rudolph hadn’t underthrown his 40 yard reception would have also been a touchdown. Thanks.

  2. Joe Kuzma says:

    Both Skipper and Holton have been around the block already. While they could stick around a la Xavier Grimble, I believe there’s less need at both positions. Holton could sneak in as a taller/faster WR that doesn’t seem to appear anywhere else on the roster, but they’re loaded at the position.

    Smith showed plenty yesterday and injuries won’t be held against his potential. Preseason stats don’t justify whether or not a player makes it or not. We’ve seen that many of times throughout the years with the likes of Howard Jones or Damoan Patterson. Great performances, but ended up not being a fit for the Steelers.

    Keep in mind I skew my picks toward what I think they’re thinking and not necessarily my personal favorites. That would be reflected in Diontae Spencer, who is my preseason pick but likely another odd man out at a deep position.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Dave Dubois says:

    I drop Eli for Holton. Holton has something that nobody else on that list has (outside the top 3) — speed and height. He’s shown well enough that he’s capable AND he’s been the gunner running with 1st team punt team. He is the 2019 version of DHB.

    Sutton Smith (unfortunately) doesn’t sniff the 53 right now. How can he? His injuries alone are enough to keep him from it as he hasn’t shown anything yet. Plus, as undersized and unproven (and out of a small school) as he is, his chances of getting poached off waivers are extremely close to 0%. Skipper on the other hand has shown himself to be a baller. 5 sacks, 2 FFs, 2 tackles on STs (last night — out of 5 kickoffs! 40% is a pretty high tackle rate though certainly a limited sample size. But it shows he has a nose for the ball). There is NO CHANCE I expose him to waivers. And I’m not sure what you meant in the comment above Joe that Skipper (and Holton) have been around the block? Certainly Holton has been a bit. But Skipper JUST graduated (or completed his time at) Toledo this Spring. He was on the 2018 Toledo FB team. At any rate, I can see no chance that Smith makes this 53 given his injuries in preseason. I AM excited about him but he will learn and have a red-shirt year on the PS.

    As to Matekevich, I agree with you that I’d MUCH rather keep UG3. Give me a guy that you aren’t afraid to put on the field at his “position” AND has shown to be good (with ability to progress) on ST over a guy that you hope and pray NEVER sees the field defensively any day and every day. I still think the Steelers keep him though.

    Other than that, I love your picks. I’m all in with those two changes I mentioned. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll call and ask what I’m thinking. LOL

  4. Joe Kuzma says:

    Skipper just turned 24 which makes him a tad older and this is Holton’s third training camp/team in as many years. Holton is 28 years old…

    As for Smith, he looked just fine out there IMO. Being drafted oftentimes not being drafted when it comes to making the 53. Just because a player racks up sacks doesn’t mean it translates to the regular season or even making the roster. We’ve seen this when Arthur Moats “crushed the JVs” or Howard Jones had strip sacks for touchdown returns too.

    The ultimate factor for me, in regard to Skippers, is that the team didn’t even consider seeing what Skipper could do on special teams. He played there last night, but was that due to lack of bodies? Anyone that deep on the roster at LB must play special teams.

    That’s also a thing with Holton: would the Steelers use him on special teams and in what capacity? They’ve used Burns as a gunner and three other WRs as returners, which limits Holton’s appeal where he’d likely be most used (i.e. replacing DHB’s role).

    I think Skipper can still make it, but he’s toward the bottom of the pecking order (as is Smith honestly). Depends on the numbers game. Do they keep 8? 9? 10? What other players are being retained at other positions such as WR, OL, DL and the secondary? Sean Davis being banged up may have an immediate impact on how many safeties the carry and could easily see Jordan Dangerfield (or someone else released from another team) jump onto the 53 and take up an extra “5th” spot not accounted for in my list.

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