Predicting the Steelers initial 2020 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 when they trim rosters 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.

Note: these projections assume all players are healthy and not a part of the COVID-19 reserve list.

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Quarterbacks (3)

Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges

Big Ben’s roster spot is safe, obviously, but what of the other quarterbacks competing in camp?

I’d say that Mason Rudolph, who the Steelers moved up to draft, and had a first round grade by their scouts, is going nowhere. Experience, good or bad, likely moves his needle up and keeps him as the team’s second option.

Devlin Hodge’s experience likely gives him the edge as well, where most NFL teams don’t have a third quarterback who any experience at all. Paxton Lynch was not looked at to play last year; despite his first round pedigree and experience, this doesn’t bode well toward making a roster that Hodges fought to get on last season.

Therefore my edge goes to the “Duck” to snag the other passer position on the depth chart.

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Running Backs (5)

James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Derek Watt

James Conner is a year removed from making the Pro Bowl and is in a contract season – he’ll be hungry to prove 2019 was a fluke.

Jaylen Samuels provides enough utility to remain on the roster, leaving second-year back Benny Snell as the primary backup to Conner and looking to make a leap after an up-and-down rookie season.

Rookie Anthony McFarland will jump incumbents Trey Edmunds and Kerrith Whyte on the depth chart, while veteran Wendell Smallwood appears to be a long-shot to make the team.

Watt was signed in the offseason to replace Roosevelt Nix.

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Wide Receivers (6)

JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer, Deon Cain, Chase Claypool

The top three are all locks to make the roster, as is the rookie Claypool. Looking around the roster, I feel as though the Steelers could wait to play “Mapletron” right away and retain a similar player, Cain, who didn’t get a full shake in 2019, joining the team late in the season.

Ryan Switzer’s inclusion will get me hate mail, but the team will view him as a slot receiver and a backup returner; the latter of which is why his roster spot could be in jeopardy.

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Tight Ends (3)

Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron, Zach Gentry

With two studs atop the depth chart, all eyes will be on the development of second-year pro Gentry and the added Dax Raymond formerly of the Bears.

I don’t see the Steelers keeping four, so I’m sticking with the guy they’ve had longer. However, Raymond could impress and make the team, but he has a very short window to do so (especially without preseason games).

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Offensive Linemen (9)

Alejandro Villanueva, Stefen Wisniewski, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, Derwin Gray, Kevin Dotson

There’s no mindblowing moves to be made here: the top seven names are all veterans while Gray was drafted last season and Dotson is a rookie.

None of the other linemen strike me as making a splash to jump any of these names on the depth chart soon.

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Defensive Linemen (6)

Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Daniel McCullers, Isaiah Buggs

Like the offensive line, the defensive line features a fairly obvious selection of players who should make the squad, including the bottom portion of McCullers and Buggs.

Their competition includes former XFL star Cavon Walker and seventh round pick Carlos Davis, who would have to make a major impression to hang on. (Or maybe my six receiver prediction is too rich, and the Steelers keep 7 players here?)

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Linebackers (8)

Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Alex Highsmith

Devin Bush,Vince Williams, Ulysses Gilbert, Robert Spillane

The only surprise here is how few linebackers I see making the team. The Steelers have quite a few undrafted players and street free agents in camp, including Tuzar Skipper, who impressed last year but was released, went to the Giants, and then returned later in the year.

Spillane has been a practice squad player who quietly got called up to the active roster during 2019. Gilbert, a rookie last season, returns from IR.

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Cornerbacks (5)

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

The same group from last year returns sans Artie Burns. With no movement in free agency or the draft, the Steelers are set with their cornerbacks.

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Safeties (5)

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Curtis Riley, Antoine Brooks

Depth could be a concern here, which is why I see veteran (and off/on practice squad player) Dangerfield making the team, along with newly signed Curtis Riley (who is a year removed from being a starter with the Giants).

Antoine Brooks is a rookie who could theoretically be used as a dimebacker, hedging any bets about keeping more linebackers on the roster for a similar role – and expanding the last year’s group of four safeties to five.

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Specialists (3)

Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday

Jordan Berry is in the most jeopardy here, with Corliss Waitman competing with him in camp.

Boswell has the inside track on his position until further notice.

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Full 53-man Roster Breakdown

# Pos Name
1 QB Ben Roethlisberger
2 QB Mason Rudolph
3 QB Devlin Hodges
4 RB James Conner
5 RB Jaylen Samuels
6 RB Benny Snell
7 RB Anthony McFarland Jr.
8 FB Derek Watt
9 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
10 WR Diontae Johnson
11 WR James Washington
12 WR Chase Claypool
13 WR Ryan Switzer
14 WR Deon Cain
15 TE Vance McDonald
16 TE Eric Ebron
17 TE Zach Gentry
18 OL Alejandro Villanueva
19 OL Stefen Wisniewski
20 OL Maurkice Pouncey
21 OL David DeCastro
22 OL Matt Feiler
23 OL Chukwuma Okorafor
24 OL Zach Banner
25 OL Derwin Gray
26 OL Kevin Dotson
27 DL Cameron Heyward
28 DL Stephon Tuitt
29 DL Tyson Alualu
30 DL Chris Wormley
31 DL Daniel McCullers
32 DL Isaiah Buggs
33 OLB Bud Dupree
34 OLB T.J. Watt
35 OLB Alex Highsmith
36 OLB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi
37 ILB Devin Bush
38 ILB Vince Williams
39 ILB Ulysses Gilbert
40 ILB Robert Spillane
41 CB Joe Haden
42 CB Steven Nelson
43 CB Mike Hilton
44 CB Cameron Sutton
45 CB Justin Layne
46 S Minkah Fitzpatrick
47 S Terrell Edmunds
48 S Jordan Dangerfield
49 S Curtis Riley
50 S Antoine Brooks
51 K Chris Boswell
52 P Jordan Berry
53 LS Kameron Canaday

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