The most important and watched aspect of any NFL training camp is the shaping of the roster for the upcoming season. The Pittsburgh Steelers will only take 53 players to Denver for the season opener against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
The roster-making process runs all the way up until the end of the preseason and will include obvious moves and heartbreaking cuts. As always, a few shockers will probably surprise everyone. With the roster finalized at 53 on August 31st, we now can have a look at who's heading to Denver.
Let's have a look at not only the 53 players that will be heading to the Mile High City, but also how Mike Tomlin and his team arrived at this point.
Here are the final roster moves made on August 31st with some analysis on each:
QB Jerrod Johnson was cut, but he could end up on the Pittsburgh practice squad if the team is lucky. Johnson projects as a nice future backup prospect and he had a good preseason to back it up (punt intended). Johnson's arm and mobility make him valuable.
P Jeremy Kapinos wasn't a surprising cut after the preseason performances of rookie Drew Butler. Kapinos, by contrast, spent the preseason injured and will now have to get healthy, prove it and wait for an injury to catch on elsewhere (hopefully not back here again).
S Damon Cromartie-Smith is another player that is a veteran in camp, but he's never been able to really crack this roster. He always seems to tantalize briefly before falling off sharply. He didn't have a great game against the Panthers and needed one to make the team.
WR Derrick Williams had a good preseason, particularly in the last two games, but it wasn't enough to make the roster. Williams has the talent and ability to catch on somewhere else and a receiver-needy team like the Dolphins may want to look his way.
LB Sean Spence (IR) was placed on season-ending injured reserve after a scary and stomach-wrenching injury in the preseason finale against Carolina. It’s a sad development for a player who was having a very nice preseason and looked to be someone the Steelers could build with as they move forward.
WR Toney Clemons was another seventh-round choice that didn't surprise anyone by being cut. Clemons was thought of as another budding receiver talent after the draft, but he was never able to show the consistency the NFL demands and eventually he just sort of disappeared completely. He could end up catching on somewhere, but he may have to spend some time on the practice squad first.
OG John Malecki has been here before. He has some value because the team continues to bring him around when the season is beginning. He could latch on elsewhere as a spare guard, but the Steelers had too much depth already for that to matter here.
C/G Ryan Lee had the unfortunate experience to be a player at a position where the team has plenty of hidden depth. Center can be manned by several other veterans. Lee didn't really have a shot at the roster, but he is a solid, raw prospect that could latch onto a practice squad soon.
WR Marquis Maze was a player that I anticipated had a good chance of making this team. With the Mike Wallace hold out, he was given an extra opportunity. But he couldn't make good on the promise of his big-play skills and simply didn't do as much as other players at the position.
WR Tyler Beiler came into camp and seemed impressive early before completely dropping off the table. Except for a couple of random plays, he just didn't show enough to be an NFL receiver. He probably will have a hard time catching on elsewhere too at this point.
RB DuJuan Harris had a wonderful game against the Panthers and basically came out of nowhere, but at this point he is too far down the depth chart at a position that is surprisingly saturated with talent. He will have to look elsewhere, but should find some kind of spot this year.
WR David Gilreath was among the most impressive young receivers in camp. He had a big game against the Colts and then another decent one against Carolina. Surprising to see him go, but the team has decided to keep only four receivers.
OL Trai Essex was a surprise cut. The veteran lineman is versatile enough to play multiple positions and will most assuredly find his way back to an NFL squad very soon. The Steelers kept rookie Kelvin Beachum instead, which is even more shocking.
CB Terrence Frederick was not a surprise cut given his poor performance in the preseason and the improvements shown by other players at the position. Frederick was always a raw prospect, but his inability to hold coverage was a concern and he also made some memorably bad plays against Carolina that sealed his fate.
DE Jake Stoller had a quiet preseason and did not stand out among the defensive ends, where Al Woods was able to carve out a nice set of performances. The Yale product has some upside, but at this point I don't see him landing anywhere. There are too many ahead of him.
DE Ike Igbinosun played a great deal in relief for the Steelers but, like Stoller, didn't have enough of an impression to make a serious run at the roster. The Steelers could choose to bring one of these young DEs back for the practice squad, but who remains to be seen.
LB Brandon Hicks had virtually no shot at the roster and hurt his stock terribly by his performance against the Panthers, where he was unable to set the edge in the run game and hold back the runners. He doesn't seem likely to catch on elsewhere.
DE Corbin Bryant had a decent preseason and also held to fort down against Carolina, but he was just short of a roster spot here. Bryant could be the guy the Steelers put on the practice team, but at this point it's too early to be sure. I do like his upside.
OT Chris Scott has been with the team for awhile, but he's never been able to get on the field consistently. He has some injury history woes too. He could catch on as a backup somewhere, but there are no sure things there.
LB Marshall McFadden had a nice night against Carolina, but the linebacker position, even with the injury to Sean Spence, was saturated to the point that he simply did not crack the roster. I think he’s an interesting player to keep an eye on, however, as other teams begin to make pickups.
CB Josh Victorian was a late addition in camp and had an impressive preseason that didn't draw a lot of interest. He may have trouble getting a job with another team because of that quiet work, but he has the talent to be a good special teams player and backup corner.
7/31/2012: Pittsburgh signed WR Paul Cox and released OT Bridger Buche. Cox shouldn’t be considered as a threat to make the final roster and is likely a camp spare part. Buche was just signed a week earlier.
7/23/2012: Pittsburgh signed OG Bridger Buche. Buche isn’t a roster threat and is just in camp to provide depth during the early round of practices.
7/19/2012: Pittsburgh released OT Jonathan Scott. This is a welcome move to anyone who saw Scott play last season in Pittsburgh and was the corresponding move to the signing of Max Starks, who will replace Scott in the rotation at tackle.
7/17/2012: Pittsburgh signed OT Max Starks. This is a move that more should have anticipated. Starks will take over backup duties from Jonathan Scott and help mentor Mike Adams at left tackle. He also can step in when necessary on either side once he’s fully recovered.
Offensive Roster and Depth Chart
Quarterbacks (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch
Running Backs (5): Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch (Third Down), Chris Rainey (PR), Rashard Mendenhall
Fullbacks (1): Will Johnson
Wide Receivers (4): Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders (KR), Jerricho Cotchery,
Tight Ends (4): Heath Miller, Weslye Saunders, Leonard Pope, David Paulson
Offensive Tackles (3): Mike Adams (L), Marcus Gilbert (R), Max Starks
Offensive Guards (5): David DeCastro (R), Willie Colon (L), Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky, Kelvin Beachum
Centers (1): Maurkice Pouncey
Defensive Roster and Depth Chart
Defensive Ends (4): Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Al Woods
Defensive Tackles (3): Steve McLendon, Casey Hampton, Alameda Ta'amu
Outside Linebackers (6): James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, Chris Carter, Adrian Robinson, Brandon Johnson
Inside Linebackers (3): Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester
Cornerbacks (4): Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown
Safeties (5): Troy Polamalu (SS), Ryan Clark (FS), Ryan Mundy, Will Allen, Robert Golden
Specialists Roster and Depth Chart
Kickers (1): Shaun Suisham
Punters (1): Drew Butler
Long Snappers (1): Greg Warren
QB Charlie Batch was on the bubble because there was a strong sentiment that the Steelers would keep only two active quarterbacks. Instead the team went with three at that spot once again and cut elsewhere.
DE Al Woods is the most impressive of a nice crop of young defensive ends on the team. He was good again against the Panthers and impressed everyone. He'll serve as a great depth option for this team.
TE Leonard Pope faced some stiff competition despite being the team's sole free-agent addition from outside the organization. Rookie David Paulson is younger and has more upside for this team. The only thing that really seems to be in his favor is that Pope knows Todd Haley's system from Kansas City.
FB Will Johnson is an interesting case because the Steelers haven't used a traditional fullback for several years. If they really value that position again, Johnson has proved capable of doing the job. He's been a good lead blocker so far.
OG Kelvin Beachum surprises me as he struggled mightily in the preseason. The team obviously feels comfortable with their guards at this point and was willing to take the flier. I think he would be the player to go if David DeCastro returns this season.
David Gilreath had an impressive preseason and I was surprised to see him go. He had done well enough I thought to make the roster and I figured he'd be here. Now he should be a guy that other teams will take a look at.
Jerrod Johnson has put on a good show and has probably done enough to surpass Charlie Batch on the field. The issue is whether or not he can do the same off it. That will likely keep Johnson on the practice squad and not the active roster until further notice.
Toney Clemons hasn't had a very consistent camp and preseason and that has hurt him as other players have stepped up and seized opportunities. He still has a nice skill set, but he isn't indispensible to this team. That will leave him on the outside unless there's a drastic change.
Jeremy Kapinos is likely on the outside at this point. Unless Drew Butler suffers a huge falloff or gets hurt, Kapinos has now hurt his stock too much. He hasn't been able to get back on the field after an early camp injury. That's not good news. Hopefully he can catch on somewhere else.
Derrick Williams is another receiver I thought would be good in this system, but Todd Haley seemed more intent on keeping all of his running backs and not worrying so much about the deep receiving corps. The Steelers will keep one on the practice squad I would bet, but not Williams.
QBs on roster: Charlie Batch, Jerrod Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger
Projected starter: Ben Roethlisberger
Offseason additions: Jerrod Johnson
Roster cuts: Johnson
Projected final roster: Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Ben Roethlisberger
The quarterback situation, as far as the final roster is concerned, is pretty cut and dry here. Ben Roethlisberger will start and he’s not going anywhere. The backup jobs will go to Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich as they did last season.
The real interesting thing here will be how the Steelers handle their two backups. Teams rarely dress three quarterbacks in a game situation, so the team will have to decide who gives the team the best chance for victory should Roethlisberger go down.
There will be a lot of snaps in the preseason to sort this battle out, but the advantage has to rest right now with Charlie Batch, who has been with the team longer and has been more healthy the last couple of seasons. He’s also older, but that shouldn’t be a major concern for a backup.
Leftwich has the better arm and seemed to be on the inside track to win the job last year before his shoulder injury, but I wonder how much the team trusts his health after two years of preseason injuries. He was a somewhat surprising re-signing, but the backup market was very thin.
Johnson should find his way onto the practice squad now that he's been cut.
RBs on roster: Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Rainey, Will Johnson (FB)
Projected starter: Isaac Redman (RB), Will Johnson (FB)
Offseason additions: Chris Rainey, Will Johnson, Jason Ford
Roster cuts: Ford, DuJuan Harris
Projected final roster: Baron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Chris Rainey, Will Johnson (FB), Rashard Mendenhall
This could turn into a very interesting story during camp because of the amount of roles running backs play and the diverse skill sets each player presents.
For example, Redman is a versatile, well-rounded guy; Rainey is a speedster; Dwyer is also well-rounded; and Batch is a versatile receiver/runner. Any one of those players could slot into the roster and be successful.
Rashard Mendenhall’s injury and Mewelde Moore’s free agency departure has opened up some doors for the young guys to get some carries. It will be interesting not only to see how the roster shapes but also which roles get assigned to which backs.
For the opening of the season, I’d expect Mendenhall to be out of the picture as he finishes rehabbing his knee. Redman will be starting barring something unexpected. Batch slots in well as the third-down back. Dwyer should spell Redman and be the smaller half of a tandem.
Chris Rainey is an interesting case. He is potentially the fastest player on the team. His receiving skills are excellent and he may end up playing more of a specialty role as a receiver and returner than as a running back. I can see something similar to what we had with Stefan Logan several years ago.
WRs on roster: Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery,
Projected starters: Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace
Offseason additions: Toney Clemons, Tyler Beiler, Paul Cox, David Gilreath, Marquis Maze, Juamorris Stewart, Derrick Williams, Jimmy Young
Roster cuts: Cox, Stewart, Young, Williams, Clemons, Beiler, Gilreath, Maze
Projected final roster: Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery
The Steelers are going with only four receivers this season. For those surprised, expect Chris Rainey to work as the fifth receiver and expect to see Baron Batch and Rainey doing a lot of work out of the backfield on screens.
Todd Haley's system is very different from what we knew under Bruce Arians. The Steelers will still spread the field, but they will do so with a different philosophy. The Steelers will now focus on a more unpredictable offense in which players play multiple roles.
One thing we saw in the preseason was how dynamic the receivers and running backs could be. That will now carry over into the regular season and I don't think carrying only four receivers will hurt in the least.
TEs on roster: Heath Miller, David Paulson, Leonard Pope, Weslye Saunders
Projected starters: Heath Miller
Offseason additions: Leonard Pope, Jamie McCoy, David Paulson
Roster cuts: McCoy
Projected final roster: Heath Miller, Weslye Saunders, Leonard Pope, David Paulson
There's actually a lot of competition here if you look closely. Beyond Heath Miller, who is definitely going to start, there are a lot of moving parts that need to find a place before the roster is finalized.
Beyond that, David Paulson is a rookie with a lot of promise and upside. I see him as a huge threat to Pope because he's younger and projects as a better overall player in this system. Pope is a veteran and he knows this offense from Kansas City, but that won't be a primary consideration if he's outplayed.
Saunders will serve a four-game suspension to open the season, so the team could feasibly let Pope and Paulson duke it out for four extra weeks and then cut whoever doesn't suit them. I don't know that they'll do that, but if they do, I still expect Paulson to win out. I think Pope will make it too if the team keeps four tight ends.
OTs on roster: Max Starks, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams,
Projected starters: Marcus Gilbert (RT), Mike Adams (LT)
Offseason additions: Mike Adams
Roster cuts: Kyle Jolly, Chris Scott
Projected final roster: Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, Max Starks
Only three tackles might seem a bit light as a final roster addition, but I think the Steelers have enough versatility from guys like Ramon Foster and Trai Essex that they won't need to keep a lot of extras along the line to cover in case of injuries.
The main notable here is Adams, who will be proving that he is capable of starting as a rookie at the most important position on the line. If he succeeds, there really aren't any worries. If he doesn't, the team now has depth behind him in Starks.
Starks is currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he finishes rehabbing his knee injury. While he should be ready for the season, the fact that he isn't ready now shouldn't really worry anyone either. The team obviously was comfortable enough to let Jonathan Scott go in a corresponding move.
Gilbert is an option on the left side if the team deems that Adams needs more seasoning, but he projects as a right tackle, especially after starting for the majority of last season at that spot. The second-year player is someone I think is primed for a big season.
A final option if needed would be to slide Willie Colon back out to tackle, but the team will want to avoid that after spending the offseason transitioning him to left guard, where he will likely be much more useful.
OGs on roster: Kelvin Beachum, David DeCastro, Willie Colon, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster
Projected starters: David DeCastro (RG), Willie Colon (LG)
Offseason additions: Kelvin Beachum, David DeCastro, John Malecki
Roster cuts: Trai Essex, John Malecki
Projected final roster: David DeCastro, Willie Colon, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Kelvin Beachum
The team will likely keep all of their veteran guards because all of them except Legursky have significant experience at tackle as well. Legursky can even slide out there in a pinch, but that would be a last resort as he'll also likely serve as the backup at center.
While nothing is in stone, DeCastro starting as a rookie has seemed a foregone conclusion since he was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft this season. Unfortunately, his injury has shelved that until at least late this season. Ramon Foster will take over.
Colon will be debuting at guard after a career both professionally and in college, spent at tackle. Colon is probably better suited to guard where he will not need to be as athletic and quick. Several of his issues, including holding penalties, may be decreased or eliminated by this move.
Legursky and Foster started last season at guard but will likely be primary backups this season. Foster will slot into the right guard spot for now. Once DeCastro returns, he will go back to being the top backup and guard and possibly at tackle.
Beachum beat out Essex in a surprising move, but Essex will be on speed dial if he isn't brought in somewhere else.
OCs on roster: Maurkice Pouncey
Projected starter: Maurkice Pouncey
Offseason additions: Ryan Lee
Roster cuts: Lee
Projected final roster: Maurkice Pouncey
The interesting thing here will be whether or not the team keeps a backup center in Lee or if they continue to utilize Doug Legursky or Trai Essex in that role. Both players are likely better options than Lee and the team can save that roster spot for something elsewhere.
Pouncey is due for another big year, but he needs to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season. He has missed important games each of his first two seasons because of ankle injuries. These have nagged him and could begin robbing his effectiveness if he can't shake the habit.
DEs on roster: Cameron Heyward, Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, Al Woods
Projected starters: Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel
Offseason additions: Corbin Bryant, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Jake Stoller, Al Woods
Roster cuts: Igbinosun, Stoller, Bryant
Projected final roster: Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, Cameron Heyward, Al Woods
This position will likely shake out much as it did last season. I'm not sure the team will keep four defensive ends, however. Cameron Heyward is capable of subbing in at either spot and none of the players I've predicted on the roster seems particularly prone to injury.
Woods has done enough to make the team and I think he'll be one of the last players in.
There's talk of Heyward pushing Hood, but that's likely just talk. Hood doesn't get nearly enough credit for his work in front of LaMarr Woodley. He's actually played well and has even added some sacks and other important plays, something not needed out of Pittsburgh ends.
DTs on roster: Casey Hampton, Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta’amu
Projected starters: Steve McLendon
Offseason additions: Kade Weston, Alameda Ta’amu, Mike Blanc
Roster cuts: Blanc, Weston
Projected final roster: Casey Hampton, Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta’amu
Mike Blanc and Kade Weston are nice pieces, but I didn't expect them to be here when the chips fell. This is all about seeing where Hampton is in his recovery and finding out how much the other two prominent names can contribute either with or without the longtime starter.
McLendon is an interesting player to watch this year. He might be the future of the position, at least for this year, if Hampton isn't ready or can't contribute at a high enough level. I'm looking at a situation similar to what we saw with Ziggy Hood replacing Aaron Smith.
Ta'amu is likely the long-term future of the spot, however. He was a steal in the draft and should be a player that can both occupy the middle of the defense and create some splash plays up the middle. I think he'll eventually make Lawrence Timmons an even more dangerous linebacker.
For this year, all eyes are on Hampton and what he can do. If he's able to start the season, he may only be a one- or two-down lineman. The rest of the snaps will probably belong to McLendon with Ta'amu in on some plays to get some experience.
For Ta'amu, starting is likely not in the cards this year. I'd expect a progression similar to what Cameron Heyward went through last season.
OLBs on roster: LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds, James Harrison, Chris Carter, Brandon Johnson, Adrian Robinson
Projected starters: LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison
Offseason additions: Ryan Baker, Brandon Johnson, Adrian Robinson
Roster cuts: Baker
Projected final roster: LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, Jason Worilds, Chris Carter, Brandon Johnson, Adrian Robinson
The starters here are 100 percent certain. Woodley and Harrison will hopefully have a fully healthy campaign after having a somewhat rocky 2011 season. Both missed significant time. Harrison is currently on the PUP list, but he should be back in time for the season and likely before that.
Behind them, Chris Carter enters his second season after getting some productive and significant time on defense as a rookie. That's rare for a Steelers defender, but injuries forced him into action.
Jason Worilds, also currently on the camp PUP list, is the other backup and he should be a good one. Worilds showed in 2011 that he could start for many teams in the NFL and has all the makings of another great Pittsburgh linebacker. He'll just need to bide his time.
Of the remaining players, the most intriguing seems to be Brandon Johnson, a late addition with some NFL experience already on his resume.
ILBs on roster: Lawrence Timmons, Stevenson Sylvester, Larry Foote, Sean Spence,
Projected starters: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote
Offseason additions: Sean Spence, Brandon Hicks, Marshall McFadden
Roster cuts: Morrty Ivy, McFadden, Hicks
Projected final roster: Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester
Timmons had a rough season because he had to move outside for awhile to replace James Harrison. He still put up great numbers, but this might be the year we actually get to see a full breakout from him since he should be the top dog on the inside.
James Farrior's old spot is up for grabs and the competition might get heated as camp moves through August. Larry Foote showed up determined to win back his old job and he's been the most impressive so far.
Sylvester is the wild card. Once, he was looked upon as the heir to Farrior. Now, he might be on the bubble. He just hasn't shown that he is capable enough on defense to be a starter. He's been solid on special teams, though. This is the year we'll find out about him for sure. We'll have to wait, however, until his MCL is healthy.
Spence's injury changed this landscape, so Slyvester has gotten lucky in a way. Once he's healthy, he better come to work.
CBs on roster: Cortez Allen, Keenan Lewis, Ike Taylor, Curtis Brown
Projected starters: Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis
Offseason additions: Terry Carter, Terrence Frederick, Andre Freeman, Walter McFadden
Roster cuts: Freeman, McFadden, Carter, Frederick
Projected final roster: Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen
The big competition in camp is for the second cornerback job. The guy who wins will start opposite Ike Taylor and be expected to cover some of the league's elite receivers. The competition is between Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.
Brown and Lewis have the most big-play potential. Lewis showed up predicting a Pro Bowl campaign and with a chip on his shoulder (in a good way). He can certainly prove himself and has the inside track at this point to win the job.
Don't sleep on Brown, however. He was drafted last year and was one of the team's best special teams players. He could show up big in camp this year and take the job away. More likely, however, is that he'll be the nickel corner and get significant time.
Allen is the wild card. He got slightly more exposure than Brown last year and played well enough, but I don't see anything flashy about what he does. Mike Tomlin values splash plays and the Steelers must get better at creating turnovers.
Safeties on roster: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Mundy, Ryan Clark, Will Allen, Robert Golden,
Projected starters: Troy Polamalu (SS), Ryan Clark (FS)
Offseason additions: Robert Golden, Myron Rolle
Roster cuts: Rolle, Damon Cromartie-Smith
Projected final roster: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Mundy, Ryan Clark, Will Allen, Robert Golden
This position is already largely settled. Polamalu and Clark aren't going anywhere anytime soon as starters. Both are Pro Bowl-caliber guys even if Clark rarely gets his due in the national media. The key for them is simply to stay healthy.
Mundy and Allen have proved to be capable substitutes when called upon and Mundy will likely start the first game in Denver because of Ryan Clark's sickle cell trait. The Steelers won't take any risks there. Mundy is a fine safety for short spells.
I think Golden can beat out Allen, but that competition is still basically too close to call. They both made the roster, so both must have shown enough value to be kept in the fold.
Kicking specialists on roster: Shaun Suisham, Drew Butler
Projected starters: Shaun Suisham (PK), Drew Butler (P)
Offseason additions: Daniel Hrapmann, Drew Butler
Roster cuts: Hrapmann, Jeremy Kapinos
Projected final roster: Shaun Suisham, Drew Butler
Drew Butler was brought in as an undrafted rookie and his big leg and ability to place kicks accurately will play well in Pittsburgh. Field position is used by the defense to help intimidate opponents. A good punter really made that battle victorious.
At kicker, there's not really anything to see. The Steelers will go once again with Shaun Suisham. I'm not sure I'm sold on him long term and a midseason change in kickers may once again be the route needed to compete, but for now he's the guy.
Returners on roster: Chris Rainey, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Isaac Redman, Baron Batch
Projected starters: Emmanuel Sanders (KR), Chris Rainey (PR)
Offseason additions: Chris Rainey
Roster cuts: None
Projected final roster: All of the above, with Brown and Batch being the secondary players.
The Steelers do not carry return specialists apart from their regular personnel as some teams do, so their returners will come from the various position players with speed and agility. The list above isn't completely comprehensive, but it's the most likely players.
I could see a guy like Toney Clemons working into this group as well, but he's not assured of a roster spot, where the above players almost all will likely be there when things are cut and dry.
Rainey's speed makes him a no-brainer for one of the jobs and he'll likely be on both units. I like him on punt returns because they are more likely to yield return situations than kickoffs under the newer rules.
Sanders is another player who might be in the mix. I don't see Antonio Brown being out there unless necessary because he is now much too valuable as a starting receiver. Sanders may be the second starter, but that should still leave him available for returns.
Baron Batch is an interesting option given his speed and elusiveness and it will be interesting to see exactly how he fits on the team as a whole. I'll be watching to see if he's tried on returns at all.