When the Pittsburgh Steelers released their initial 53-man roster on Saturday, there were very few surprises as to whose names were on the list. In fact, when factoring in training camp and preseason performances, even those whose names may have caught some off guard once the list was released proved to be players who had shown up - some in bigger ways than others - and earned their spot.
Comparing the Steelers' official list to the predictions made by Steel City Underground's very own Joe Kuzma, the picture was a relatively easy one to paint with a few players that could just end up on the practice squad. For the sake of this article, however, we'll look at the predictions and dip a little into who the Steelers added to the 53 and why we believe those selections made sense.
With Ben Roethlisberger firmly entrenched as QB1 for the Steelers, the real battle for the backup spot boiled down to Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs. Devlin Hodges had some nice moments during the preseason and it was clear he was fighting for an opportunity. In the end, Rudolph showed more poise and control in executing the playbook and running the offense than Dobbs. Dobbs provides an "x" factor for the Steelers with his running ability, though, as Dobbs is more of a pocket passer. That isn't to say that Rudolph can't evade pressure; he showed he could several times during preseason play. Hodges may have done enough to find a spot on the practice squad, but with other teams in the NFL currently looking for quarterback help, he may just find a home on another roster for 2019-20.
Joe's prediction: Roethlisberger, Rudolph, Dobbs (Hodges with a slim possibility to find a spot on PS).
Running Backs (4)
The run game was relatively quiet for the Steelers during the preseason as they rotated several prospects in and out of their four exhibition games in order to evaluate them in real-time. James Conner and the versatile Jaylen Samuels weren't going to lose their spots unless an injury occurred, and thankfully it didn't. With the Steelers selecting Benny Snell, Jr. in the 2019 NFL Draft, and the number of snaps they gave the rookie, it was pretty clear that Pittsburgh was going to hang onto him as well. That left quite a group of guys to look over by the coaching staff. Although utilized as a halfback the majority of the time, Roosevelt Nix also looked to be a lock - and he was.
That meant that Trey Edmunds, Travon McMillian, and Malik Williams really had to show something special to earn a spot. McMillian and Williams were relatively limited, but don't count out Edmunds just yet as he may show up on the practice squad after showing promise, especially at training camp.
Joe's prediction: Connor, Samuels, Snell, Nix (and possibly Edmunds on PS).
Wide Receivers (5)
JuJu Smith-Schuster was obviously going to be the Steelers' WR1. With the addition of Donte Moncrief during the offseason, it looked like James Washington would need a big preseason performance to unseat him as WR2. Washington certainly made a case for himself and it remains to be seen what the Steelers do with the depth chart come Week 1. With Ryan Switzer showing more versatility than Eli Rogers, he was able to retain a spot. Rogers did not.
One of the biggest questions heading into cuts was how many receivers the Steelers planned on rostering. Would it be five or six? In the end, they opted for five. Diontae Johnson grabbed the fifth spot while Diontae Spencer did not crack the roster.
While Trey Griffey, Tevin Jones, and Brandon Reilly were on the outside looking in from the gun, Johnny Holton certainly made some noise. Enough that he very well could have been the sixth receiver had the Steelers opted to put that many on their active roster. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that he made enough of an impact, at least in the final preseason game, to earn a spot on the PS.
Joe's prediction: Smith-Schuster, Moncrief, Washington, Rogers, Switzer, Johnson.
Tight Ends (3)
This was one group that I was hoping to see more production from during the preseason. Vance McDonald was a shoo-in, but with his history of minor injuries, I was hoping to see a definitive TE2 step up, especially in the receiving game. The Steelers will use Nix and Samuels in different offensive schemes, so I anticipated that Pittsburgh might hang onto Grimble as a blocking tight end. That left Zach Gentry (a tall target), Micky Crum, Kevin Rader, Trevor Wood, and Christian Scotland-Williamson. The Steelers opted to keep Gentry, which would have been my choice even though he struggled at times. Rader had a poor preseason and there was very little production from the rest of the pack.
There is speculation that the Steelers may still be looking for tight end help from the free-agent market, so this is one position to watch over the next few days.
Joe's prediction: McDonald, Grimble, Gentry.
Offensive Linemen (9)
When news broke that the Steelers had traded Jerald Hawkins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I was ready for someone that played well during camp and preseason to fill the vacancy. I wasn't disappointed by who the Steelers decided should stay. Undrafted free agent Fred Johnson showed up to play while newly-drafted Derwin Gray struggled. One of the greatest strengths of the Steelers' offense is their line made up of Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, with Matt Feiler and B.J. Finney. Chukwuma Okorafor seemed to be a guy that Pittsburgh wanted to keep around. Zach Banner was a pleasant surprise for me in how he performed in the time he saw on the field.
With a lot of players to choose from, the Steelers opted to release J.C. Hassanauer, Patrick Morris, Damian Prince, and Garrett Brumfield with Gray.
Joe's prediction: Villanueva, Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro, Feiler, Finney, Okorafor, Banner, 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. - J. Kuzma
Defensive linemen (6)
Beyond Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave, I was quietly evaluating Tyson Alualu, and Daniel McCullers to see if someone would really stand out. Even "Big Dan" looked improved. Without L.T. Walton (who was not re-signed during the offseason), I felt the Steelers would find at least one more guy, even if it was for depth. The guy I found myself rooting for was the guy that Pittsburgh opted to put on their roster: Isaiah Buggs (the second of their three sixth-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft). He showed some really nice moves and quickness during the preseason, even if he wasn't the flashiest guy on the field - I liked his run-stop ability the most.
A guy that I think is an outlier and potential PS candidate is Henry Mondeaux. He did not make the final cut, joining Winston Craig, Conor Sheehy, Greg Gilmore, and Casey Sayles. I would not be surprised to see Mondeaux back, however.
Joe's prediction: Heyward, Tuitt, Alualu, Hargrave, McCullers, Buggs
In the backrooms of SCU, there was a lot of discussion about how many linebackers the Steelers might roster based on their hybrid-type defense. Would they keep nine or ten? This was a very deep group and I'm sure it was one of the hardest for Pittsburgh to whittle down due to some really nice performances from guys that weren't with the team in 2018-19. When it came down to it, however, the Steelers put Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Sutton Smith, Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Mark Barron, Tyler Matakevich, Tuzar Skipper, and Ulysees Gilbert III on their roster. That makes the number the Steelers are currently carrying at ten.
Jayrone Elliot, who had an 88-yard strip/fumble recovery for a touchdown was cut, as was sack machine, Robert Spillane. Joining them was Christian Kuntz, Tegray Scales, and Sutton Smith.
Joe did what he called "some trimming", hedging between the Steelers carrying ten linebackers versus nine depending on the health of Adeniyi (who reportedly had surgery on a shoulder) and an injury to Chickillo. Joe also thought Gilbert would steal Matakevich's special teams' snaps, but it looks like Pittsburgh may have other thoughts.
Smith was a bit of a surprise for me, but that doesn't mean he won't be added to the PS. I was practically begging the Steelers to find a roster spot for Skipper on Twitter during the Carolina Panthers game, so I was happy to see his name on the final 53.
Joe's prediction: Dupree, Watt, Chickillo, Adeniyi, Smith, Bush, Williams, Barron, Gilbert
Once Brian Allen was released/waived due to injury, I thought the Steelers might have an easier time settling this roster position. Although Marcelis Branch did grab an interception in the final preseason game, I doubted he'd make the final 53. That left Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Artie Burns, and Justin Layne.
Joe's prediction: Haden, Nelson, Burns, Hilton, Sutton, Layne
With the way Kameron Kelly played during the preseason, I was glad to see his name not appear on the "released" list. And even though there were some Jordan Dangerfield truthers in the SCU backrooms, I wasn't necessarily sold he'd make it. Hilton and Sutton both played some snaps at the safety position during the preseason, so it looks like the Steelers want to be more diversified in their personnel packages. Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, and Dangerfield were the three safeties the Steelers chose - for now.
As for defensive backs in general, Marcus Allen, Jhvonte Dean, Dravon Askew-Henry, P.J. Locke, and Trevon Mathis joined Brian Allen on the released list. I would not be surprised to see the Steelers add someone to the PS from this list.
Joe's prediction: Davis, Edmunds, M. Allen, Kelly
When the Steelers sent Matthew Wright and Ian Berryman onto the field for the entirety of the final preseason game, I had pretty much figured that Pittsburgh was giving Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry an opportunity for redemption this season. Boswell and Berry will remain with Kameron Canaday as the long snapper. Wright and Berryman were released.
Joe's prediction: Boswell, Berry, Canaday