Heading toward a first round of roster cuts, which Steelers are on the “hot seat”?
Everywhere I turn, Steelers fans, analysts and critics are attempting to create “battles” for roster spots and starting positions. We’ve seen it happen with quarterbacks, especially this offseason, all the way to a few people in the media throwing out some false ideas on players who may be ahead of others on the depth chart.
Ahead of the Steelers first preseason game, I wanted to give my predictions on which Steelers may need a strong game – or three – to stick to the final 53-man roster at the end of the month.
Here’s some of my thoughts.
If this were any other roster, Boykin would likely be safe with the WR4 or WR5 spot.
With this stacked Steelers wide receiver group, Boykin projects to be WR7 at best.
I’ve used the word “disappointing” with Boykin when discussing him on our podcast, but that’s not entirely accurate. It’s not as if he’s doing anything wrong, but compared with the players he’s competing against, he simply doesn’t stand out.
Boykin’s biggest attribute is his size: he stands 6-4 and is larger than most of the receivers in the room. However, that may not be enough to save him.
Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, with rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin III figure to be among the top four receivers retained. Gunner Olszewski was signed this offseason as a return specialist and should be the fifth, while Anthony Miller – Boykin’s primary competition – is not only angling for a roster spot, but some legit playing time.
That leaves no room left for Boykin, who was claimed off of waivers – and will return to them if he’s released.
Should he make it through the claims process, he will return on the practice squad, but some receiver-needy teams (like the Dallas Cowboys) will likely take a stab, making his comeback unlikely.
I’m a huge fan of Rader, who developed from the Steelers practice squad over the last few seasons into their TE3 on the roster – namely as a blocker and special teams player.
The FCS product from Youngstown State is in a fierce battle with Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger and rookie Connor Heyward, for what could be the last tight spot on the 53-man roster.
Typically, the Steelers only keep three tight ends, but they have rostered an “H-back” in addition to a fullback in the past, keeping David Johnson and Will Johnson in addition to Roosevelt Nix for a few seasons. Therefore, there’s a precedent for Pittsburgh to keep Heyward and another tight end, but its still an “either or” situation between Rader and Sternberger.
Both have been impressive enough throughout training camp to warrant keeping, but it’s not a cool seat for the incumbent Rader to be currently sitting on.
Too much was made of the Steelers drafting “two” quarterbacks this offseason. So much so, people were already making arguments for how and why FCS product Oladokun would make the team – usually in their minds, over Mason Rudolph.
The Steelers won’t enter the 2022 season the same way they did in 2019, where they had two quarterbacks on their roster with zero NFL snaps. Back then it was Rudolph, who was entering year two as a pro, and FCS level Samford QB Devlin Hodges.
Coincidentally, Oladokun played at Samford for one season, but that’s not why he won’t make the cut. It’s because he’s seeing little, if any reps during training camp, as the team has mainly focused on their competition between Mitchell Trubisky and Rudolph, with first round pick Kenny Pickett getting their scraps.
I’ve contended since the beginning that Oladokun, who was pick of 241 of 262 in this year’s NFL Draft, would be a practice squad player. He was added to help emulate this year’s opposing quarterbacks, such as Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and maybe Deshaun Watson, as the scout team QB.
That looks like his best path to possibly being on the 53-man roster next season.
Ulysees Gilbert III
Gilbert has been a long-standing name on my hot seats of the past, as the Steelers continue to add other inside linebackers to the fold.
He’s had issues staying healthy before, and with further dings that keep him off of the field, could be passed up by last year’s fourth round pick Buddy Johnson or this year’s seventh round selection, Mark Robinson.
The Steelers are a bit heavy with similar players, making Gilbert a potential casualty in the final year of his rookie deal. It will really depend on what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wants to run in terms of linebackers and defensive backs: sometimes they’ve kept as many as ten linebackers, but there doesn’t appear to be a need for more than eight this season.
Allen has once felt the axe from the 53-man roster cut, but somehow sticks around – even re-signing this offseason.
Like Gilbert, he too could be on the way out with a glut of players flirting as hybrid linebackers/safeties on the team.
While he’s converted over to inside linebacker officially, the former safety has to look over his shoulder at Gilbert, Johnson and Robinson, while the team added Myles Jack and also has Devin Bush and Robert Spillane in the fold.
Consider too that Demontae Kazee was signed as a reserve safety and Karl Joseph was re-signed this offseason, and the number of defensive backs that are similar to Allen, and maybe offer more upside for the limited defensive snaps he plays, could make Allen expendable.
Pressley Harvin III
The most volatile positions in pro football are the ones where players kick a ball.
Harvin, college football’s Ray Guy award winner and only punter drafted in 2021, was inconsistent to say the least.
As is customary with both kicking positions, the Steelers brought in competition for training camp. Harvin responded by dropping a reported 40 pounds before coming to Latrobe, but his inconsistent play still shows up during these summer sessions.
His opposition, Cameron Nizialek, is an undrafted punter out of Georgia who appeared in four games for the Atlanta Falcons last year.
Any poor punts could further heat up an already warmed up seat for the incumbent Harvin.