An Early Estimation of The Pittsburgh Steelers Final 53
- Updated: June 11, 2016
Anything can happen on any NFL team. Players are cut, traded, or worse and hopefully not, sidelined for weeks at a time. Predicting an NFL team’s final 53 man roster before the start of any “real football” is basically taking one big estimated guess, and hopefully landing on all 53 answers to appear near genius. Especially when making such prediction before a single preseason snap. However, more often than not, making predictions like that so early in the NFL season goes far from genius. But I’m certainly not the first person to attempt such a feat, and making these guesses can be fun. This is how I currently assume that the Pittsburgh Steelers roster would turn up, come the end of the preseason. (Right now.)
The Quarterbacks: 3
Ben Roethlisberger, obviously, is in no danger of losing his starting position due to performance or camp competition. In the matter of the backup quarterback position, I believe the situation is very different. The Steelers will keep 3 on the roster, but I firmly believe that Bruce Gradkowski will resume his rightful role behind Big Ben. Landry Jones had his opportunities this past season. The only glimmer of potential I personally saw, should have been largely(if not completely) credited to Martavis Bryant‘s performance against Arizona. Bruce has come in before when needed, and done what Tomlin and Haley have asked of him. I can’t honestly say the same for Jones. So there’s your 3: Ben, Bruce, & Landry – in that order.
Running Backs: 4
With Leveon Bell‘s recovery seemingly going more than well, I think it’s safe to say he will land on the final 53. DeAngelo Williams has become a fan favorite in his short span in the Black & Gold city, both on the field and on Twitter. There are a few running backs in camp right now that could push Fitz Toussaint for that coveted RB3 spot on Pittsburgh’s roster. Daryl Richardson is basically a veteran with 3 years experience in the league, though never really doing anything worth noting. Cameron Stingly is a guy the coaching staff apparently likes, because this is his second straight season making the team as a try-out player. Stingly has lost noticeable weight this season, showing commitment.
I went back and fourth on this one but I just kept going back to how Toussaint performed in Cincinnati. His fumble against Denver was truly heartbreaking, but Fitz was doing better than anyone had expected until that point as the “starter.” His twisting catch in the rain, while toe-dragging the sideline against the Bengals was, by definition, a big time play. I assume the way Toussaint’s season ended will only motivate the young man to work, and keep the RB3 spot in Pittsburgh. A spot that has proven to hold very real importance each of the past two seasons, unfortunately.
Roosevelt Nix has also become a fan favorite in his short span in our city. I would be highly highly shocked if his job was in any sort of jeopardy. He can honestly become one of the best fullbacks in the game with his effort and low center of gravity. “Glock 45” as he is sometimes referred to, is also a missile on special teams.
Wide Receivers: 6
Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, and Darrius Heyward-Bey are all clear locks on the roster. In what order behind AB? I honestly don’t want to predict the depth chart of the receivers just yet. Mainly because Tomlin and Haley seem to deploy the team’s #2-4 receivers somewhat equally. Wheaton was the “starter” last season but it sure felt like Bryant was out there just as much, if not more. A lot of NFL teams today only keep 5 wide outs because of needs elsewhere. However, I think it’s very possible that Pittsburgh will elect to keep 6 wide receivers on their roster. There seems to be 3 popular names in camp right now battling it out for those final 2 spots.
Now, it isn’t uncommon to believe that the Steelers will keep only 5 wide receivers. That wouldn’t be crazy. I won’t be blown away if that happens. Personally I just think it would be smart to keep 6, given all of the talent in these 3 young bucks. DeMarcus Ayers, Canaan Severin, and Eli Rogers are all under 24 years old, and all have been catching attention in these early phases of workouts. In my most recent article, I stated that I would be surprised if Ayers did not make the final cut.. So, this may come off contradictory. .. It’s actually a great way of demonstrating how quickly and often things can change on an NFL team’s roster this time of year. The more I thought about it, the more I liked Rogers and Severin.
Ayers is an exciting prospect, but he is certainly “behind the curb” when it comes to Todd Haley’s intricate playbook. Rogers has spent 2 seasons with the team now.(In a t-shirt and shorts, but still on the team.) He and Ayers are believed to be in a battle for the starting punt/kick returner job. So, that helped drive my decision here as well. I think whoever loses that return-man battle, will also lose their roster spot. It just doesn’t help the team as much to have both of them on the active roster when both receivers bring a lot of the same things to the table: quickness, solid hands, return ability, and a possible bright future in the slot. In a recent interview, Markus Wheaton went out of his way to say that Eli Rogers, in particular, was having an impressive camp thus far. Now, this could just be a friend talking up a friend, but I’m going to take Wheaton’s word as truth for now. If Rogers can just stay healthy, I think he does indeed have an advantage over Ayers.
Canaan Severin has been an electrifying name since Pittsburgh inked him as an undrafted free agent. Most draft experts thought the 2nd team All-ACC receiver was a later round talent, who happened to fall right out of the draft. This of course caught my interest, so I payed close attention after the team signed Severin to figure out why he fell so far. Details later released stated that Severin deals with the same “sickle cell” problem that Ryan Clark has. Also, Severin was forced to miss his pro day (or most of it) with an injury, and he was not an NFL Combine invitee. It’s pretty hard to get drafted after rolling with all those punches. But, Severin has the desirable size(6″2) and hands to be a pro- in my opinion. His best games in college came against his toughest opponents. In particular, his Notre Dame tape is pretty entertaining. He has above average body control when asked to make a contested catch. Severin also went from “worst to first” in Virginia University’s receiving corp. In a very lack luster passing attack, Severin was the clear cut number one receiver on the team, after working his way up from the bottom of the depth chart. This demonstrates great drive and determination, (Also- was one of the team’s captains his final year at school) he hasn’t been handed anything in his career.
The unknown is an element of the NFL that will never go away. The future of the Steelers wide receiving corp is the very image of “unknown“.. After this season, Markus Wheaton is set to become a free agent and who knows if Martavis Byrant finally has his head on straight? Sammie Coates sure looks promising, but even he only has 4 career receptions. Not that I would LIKE to see numbers 10 & 11 depart from Pittsburgh, but it’s a very real possibility. If this were to happen, all of a sudden the Steelers deepest position on their depth chart, would appear rather shallow. Darrius Heyward-Bey recently signed that 3-year extension; but it wouldn’t exactly be ground-breaking news if the Steelers eventually parted ways with DHB, due to lack in performance or anything of the sort. So, as I previously stated, I think it would be a wise move to keep 6 wide receivers on the team this year. Potentially, Severin and Rogers can be bred into what we are all now witnessing from Markus Wheaton: A young receiver who has grown exclusively under Todd Haley’s playbook, and has blossomed into one of the better #2/#3 wide outs in the game. AB, Wheaton, Coates, DHB, Rogers, and Canaan Severin are your final 6 in my eyes.
Tight Ends: 3
We all knew that the “HEEEATH” era would end eventually. Miller will go down as a Steeler great, already BEING the best tight end in franchise history. But number 83 won’t be suiting up again anytime soon so the Steelers made a fantastic move by bringing in yet another wrinkle to an already dominant offense.
I personally cannot wait to see the effect Ladarius Green has on this team. Roethlisberger has never had a tight end with such speed and athleticism in his entire career. Assuming Green can get the playbook down in time, he could be the next big thing at the tight end position in 2016. San Diego fans were NOT pleased when they let Ladarius go. Most fans(myself included) believe that the 4-year veteran is just now starting to peak, after learning behind a future hall of famer, Antonio Gates, all 4 of those years.
Now Green gets to be the Batman opposed to the Robin, and the situation could not be better. Just think about it, out of the huddle comes AB, Leveon Bell, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, and Ladarius Green.. someone is catching a pass on you! Once Green can prove that he is a legitimate receiving threat, the sky is truly the limit for this offense. Defenses will have to game plan accordingly for Green thus, taking pressure off of other players SUCH AS the killer B’s themselves.
Behind Ladarius I believe the 2nd year pro, Jessie James, has that spot on lock. The Penn State product saw limited action as a rookie, but his performance steadily increased throughout 2015. In fact, a large portion of the Steeler fan base was seemingly excited for what the future had for James… then Ladarius Green came along. And ironically, the former “bolt” stole the thunder.
Jessie can still have a solid career, and in Pittsburgh. I just happen to think that Green is going to be clearly ahead of him on the depth chart for years to come.
The third and final tight end I’m predicting to make the squad is Xavier Grimble, a very popular name at Steelers OTAs(Organized Team Activities) right now. I personally have even seen photos taken of Grimble running with the first team offense. Granted, Ladarius has been limited in these OTAs due to a minor injury, but the coaching staff is still choosing to put Grimble out there with the 1’s over anyone else.
Grimble was signed to Pittsburgh’s practice squad last season. So, like Eli Rogers, he has had a chance to really sit down and learn our offense. Grimble has reportedly showed up to this year’s stretch of OTAs in the best shape of his life. I’ve jokingly been referring to Grimble as “Cheeseburger Eddie”(from The Longest Yard) because the USC product is built like a brick house. I don’t EXPECT the Steelers to necessarily NEED Xavier Grimble in the immediate future, but he would probably be the best back-up for Green considering they have a very similar skill set.
TOTAL Offensive Linemen: 8
With Maurkice Pouncey at OTAs running around again, the Steeler OLine has already gone from average(in 2015) to one of the better offensive lines in the league today. When %100 healthy, there is no better center in the game today than Pouncey. David Decastro is playing like the man before him to dawn that #66 at an all pro level. Markus Gilbert gave up ONE sack in 2015. Ramon Foster has been resigned for what appears to be the remainder of his career. Pittsburgh signed recent Super Bowl Champion, Ryan Harris to “push” Allejandro Villenueva for the starting tackle spot opposite Gilbert.
Considering “Villy” has never played a meaningful snap of offensive tackle until this past season, I think he keeps his job in 2016. The arrow is pointing WAY UP for Villenueva. The man played wide receiver in college, and in his first season playing offensive tackle, he could have done A LOT worse. If Villy can build off his solid start last season, Pittsbrugh’s OLine will be opening holes that “Big Dan” McCullers could run through. Having a proven veteran, like Harris, as the “swing tackle” –(in other words, the first tackle up off the bench if one of them goes down.) is simply genius. Lack of depth along the OLine is extremely problematic-(see Steelers 2015 injury report) I would feel completely comfortable dressing Harris for all 16 games, assuming he could come in anytime and do his job.
The mean and nasty Cody Wallace will almost certainly be kept because he can literally play all 5 spots along the offensive line. Jerlad Hawkins, being the team’s most recent 4th round pick, will definitely make the final 53. Considering that B.J. Finney(a young versatile lineman that Pittsburgh likes) has not done much in his short NFL career, I think the Steelers could cut him, and retain him to the practice squad. BUT I could not find a final place for Finney on my final 53, so my desired scenario would be the practice squad for BJ.
TOTAL Defensive Linemen: 6
Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt will be staples on the Steelers defense for years to come. Heyward is finally getting some of the recognition he deserves, having landed on the famous “Top 100 players of 2015” count down. Cam led the team in sacks last year but even more importantly, he was constantly collapsing the pocket, that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. But Heyward made opposing QBs uncomfortable more often than not, by throwing their own linemen back in their faces.
As for Tuitt; he is one of the most athletic defensive ends in the game today and I happen to think he can reach double digit sacks. He was clocked at almost 20 miles per hour the other day, to put that athleticism in perspective for you. However, after those two studs, the pecking order along the DLine is really anybody’s guess right now.
I’m one of the fans who believes that Javon Hargrave, the team’s most recent 3rd round pick, will start immediately. I’m not saying Dan McCullers is just an outright bust, but I don’t see him to be this dominant force in the middle that his size says he could be. He will suffice as Hargrave’s backup. There are plenty of reasons McCullers lasted until the 6th round of his draft, and we had to snatch Hargrave in the 3rd round of this year’s draft. He’s just better in all phases of the game, it’s not science.
The team signed Ricardo Matthews away from the Chargers during free agency. When the Steelers sign players during THAT particular part of the offseason, they usually stick. Matthews isn’t a “big sack” guy, but he managed to wrap Mike Vick up for one last season. He was a necessary and cheap signing for depth.
The final spot is for L.T. Walton. Cam Heyward, like Wheaton with Rogers, went out of HIS way to say Walton has really stepped it up this year, and appears a lot more comfortable in the defensive scheme. A common trait that all these defensive linemen share is versatility. They all can move around and play all three of the defensive line spots that Keith Butler’s defense requires.
TOTAL Linebackers: 10
The linebacker group in The Steel City is absolutely spoiled with potential and high upside along with a nice sprinkle of veteran leadership. We all, as a fan base, would like to see more of them capitalize on that potential; but my point is that it was not easy to narrow this group down. Regardless of all the chatter in regards to Lawrence Timmons and his expensive contract, he isn’t going anywhere. Ryan Shazier(who has sky-rocketed up in popularity amoungst Steeler faithful) forced not one, but two fumbles in an away playoff game. Aside from DHB, “Shazzy” may in fact be the fastest player on the team- which is nuts. Similar to Pouncey, if Ryan Shazier can stay off the injury report, I don’t see how he doesn’t make the pro bowl. I feel pretty good about having those two in the middle for 2016. Behind Timmons and Shazier I imagine Vince Williams will continue to hold down his spot as the first middle backer in off the bench, when those two need a breather. Williams has gotten better each season, and he actually is in a contract year now, so he has more motivation($$$$$) than just being the late round selection that he was, out of Florida State.
Steven Johnson, like Ricardo Matthews, was signed in the very early stages of free agency so- to not sound hypocritical, I assume Steelers coaching staff has a plan for Johnson and expects him to stick. Johnson has played primarily on special teams in his short career but that’s what the Steelers lost when Terrance Garvin and Sean Spence walked out the door. Coincidentally, Johnson has scooped up Spence’s old number, 51. Johnson will likely have a very similar role that Sean Spence held for the past two seasons.
The final (middle) backer spot is being awarded to the player recently dubbed “Dirty Red.” Yes, this can only be one man on Pittsburgh’s roster, Tyler Matakevich. In my most recent article, I detailed all of the reasons why this was one of the more exciting 7th round picks in recent history. Dirty Red doesn’t do anything(besides tackling) exceptionally well, but he does everything well. And that’s a very sturdy foundation on which to build an NFL career.
Bud Dupree started very strong last season, racking up his first career sack in his first career game. He continued his success up until he accumulated his fourth and final sack of the season at home against the Bengals. Dupree hit the infamous “rookie wall.” He got noticeably better at defending against the run as the season went on, but offensive tackles all became wise to Dupree’s game. He’s a big speed rush guy. Tackles started to just let Bud run right by them while simply escorting him out of the play completely. It will be up to coach Joey Porter and others to get Bud to learn/practice a wider range of rush moves. Most Steeler fans, myself very much included, have very high hopes for “Big Bud.” His athleticism and seemingly great attitude towards the game are highly encouraging. If he can be the next dominant, double digit sack, edge rusher for the Steelers (Gildon, Porter, Harrison- to name a few) the secondary would be helped out dramatically.
Speaking of James Harrison, I think the NFL drug tested him for the 26th time this offseason the other day. Regardless of how much they seem to believe he is fueling himself improperly, Steeler faithful knows the real “Deebo.” The real James Harrison is going to show up in the shape of a late 20 something year old, and probably give us four to five sacks in 2016.
Arthur Moats is a great effort and team first oriented player- you have to respect that. I don’t expect anything out of this world from Moats this upcoming season, but count on him to do his job.
Travis Feeney has as high of a ceiling as anybody. I went into details in regards as to how I felt about the former defensive back in my last write up. Recently, I learned that the Steelers are higher on Feeney than I originally thought. Pittsburgh was rumored to have been trying aggresivley to trade back into the 5th round this past draft.(Thanks, Brandon Boykin.) When I heard this, I thought I KNEW it was for a running back or wide receiver. As it turns out, Pittsburgh was trying to trade into the 5th round for Travis Feeney. So when Feeney was sitting there in the 6th round, the selection was almost instant. As long as he’s healthy he will make the team.
Jarvis Jones‘ 5th year option on his rookie deal was not picked up. This news surprised no one, I doubt even Jones himself. So this really is a make or break year for the 4 year veteran out of Georgia. Usually, playing for a contract inspires players in the NFL. However, it’s hard to be optimistic about Jarvis because I feel as if every year all these hopes are built up, and nothing comes of them. Hopefully he proves me wrong, honestly. If he and Bud Dupree can be what they were envisioned to be, the Steelers defense will be back on track, and then some. But that’s a huge “if.”
Big Play Will Gay will likely be on the field for every single defensive snap in 2016- which I’m totally fine with. Like it or not, Gay is our best corner, right now anyway. He really gets a bad wrap because of his first stint in the Black & Gold but since returning from the Cardinals, Gay has been a solid contributor. There’s more than one reason that Pittsburgh saw him as a “must” to resign. His on-the-field smarts are second to none in the defensive back room. He gave up zero touchdowns in the 2015 regular season. He scored more touchdowns than he gave up.
Ross Cockrell was also resigned after a somewhat successful first season with the Steelers. I’m a Cockrell fan, he has great size(6 foot) and smarts for a cornerback. For a second year player who was seemingly thrown into the fire that was the Steelers cornerback rotation, Ross did pretty well. I very much believe that he will build on last years performance and it will be hard to justify taking him off the field. He isn’t meant for the nickle role so he will almost always be utilized on the outside.
Senquez Golson has had his fair share of bumps in the road. But the expectation is that Golson will be on the field in 2016 and used in a multitude of ways. Before this “soft tissue” injury Senquez suffered, reports were coming out of OTAs that Golson was seen on the inside playing nickle, as well as the outside. Some may have been a little shocked to hear this but in actuality, Senquez played a majority of his college career on the outside locking up larger receivers. Throw in the fact that William Gay is viewed as an above average nickle back, the Steelers coaches could very well have those two swapping in and out of the nickle spot throughout this upcoming season. He’s just got to get and stay healthy.
Artie Burns has been arguably the most “popular attraction” at OTAs. A lot of players and coaches have chimed in on how the 21 year old has been performing thus far. William Gay has reportedly said that Artie has approached him every day after workouts with whole lists of questions. Hearing that Burns is so hungry for knowledge is highly encouraging. It’s very early and the pads haven’t even been put on yet, but all appears to be going well. Burns has been seen taking reps against Antonio Brown, which can only help the young man.
Photos being released out of OTA’s also show #25 with his hands on the football quite a bit. I feel as if my anticipation builds with each day in regards to the debut of Artie Burns. Only time will tell as to when he finally gets out there, but nothing is wrong with learning and honing his skill set. It used to be uncommon for Pittsburgh to throw rookies out on to the field for defense, but Dupree and Shazier both tossed that theory out the window. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe Burns will be out on the field a tad earlier than most expect.
Doran Grant was the team’s 4th round pick in the 2015 draft out of Ohio State. I thought Grant showed some promise in his preseaon action last year, but the team ended up waiving him.(basically cutting) He was later retained but I assume he will make the 53 this season without any set backs. It’s pretty rare to see a team just be done with a 4th round pick after one season, besides Ross Cockrell- thanks again, Buffalo.
I decided to keep 6 corners basically on a hunch. I’ve heard from a few reports and posts that Montell Garner has shown improvement in the OTAs. Garner was on the Steelers practice squad last season. I wouldn’t exactly want to see Garner out there with the starting 11, but I think he would be good for depth and of course, special teams.
Mike Mitchell has finally developed into what the Steelers were paying for. He celebrates a lot, but he also forces a lot of turnovers and incompletions. Mitchell finished 10th amoungst the free safeties in the NFL for pro bowl voting, from the fans. So clearly I’m not the only Mike Mitchell fan. I may be the largest one, but not the only. He’s our best safety on the roster, by far. He has played through painful injuries for a majority of his Steeler career. He was just quoted in a recent interview saying something along the lines of the Rooneys paying him to play 16 games, so he plays 16 games. You have to admire that.
Robert Golden was resigned to a 3 year deal and will likely open up the regular season as the starter opposite Mike. As much as I want to see that be Sean Davis instead, the Steelers usually play it safe and ease the younger players in. Throw in the facts that Golden has recently been payed, and played above average when filling in for Will Allen last season, he might be harder to get off the field than initially thought- when Davis was selected with the 58th pick.
Hey, if Golden and Davis can both put good football out there on the field, then I say let them both play. There is always going to be a “starter” but in today’s NFL, defensive backs are used in larger quantities and more often than ever before. Sean Davis is the more attractive option right now, but if Golden can play well, I doubt that Keith Butler will just forget about the 4th team captain. Davis, like Burns, has been looking solid in OTAs though.
Finally, I predict Shamarko Thomas beating out Ross Ventrone for the final (active roster) safety spot. Shamarko’s development has been anything but steady. He has his flaws, but like Jarvis Jones, I believe this will be Thomas’ final shot to impress Steelers coaching staff- resulting in inspired play. If he can’t get it by now, he never will. Defensive back’s coach, Carnell Lake, says he has seen improvement in Shamrko as well this season. So who knows, this could finally be his year to make an impact. But the odds are stacked against that with Davis being drafted so high, and Golden being resigned. He can be a special teams demon though.
It’s awesome how Chris Boswell has come to be “The Bozz” in Pittsburgh. The undrafted kid made nothing short of a huge impact on the way the 2015 Steelers season turned out. One of the most accurate kickers in the league and one of the youngest. I predict (and hope) The Bozz will be here for years to come. Everything happens for a reason, Scobee.
Greg Warren was retained as the team’s long-snapper once again. He has done his job for years so no concerns there. Pittsburgh brought in a rookie punter to push Jordan Berry for the starting spot, but I have a soft spot for the Ozzie. I imagine he will keep his starting spot. There is room for improvement but I expect that will come in his second season AS the starting punter.
There you have it, my final 53 and it’s not even July yet. Business is boomin’
HERE WE GO!!!