Offseason Power Rankings for Every Player on Pittsburgh Steelers Roster
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The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2013 roster won't take shape until the players start practicing in pads.
However, organized team activities can provide some hints in predicting which 53 players will be Steelers when the Tennessee Titans come to Heinz Field on Sept. 8.
A long offseason without Steelers playoff games is more than half over. It's a good time to check in and power rank every player on the Steelers roster.
These rankings are based on 53-man roster projections.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics are from NFL.com.
53-46: Ta'amu, Jones, Victorian, Whimper, Woods, Embernate, McFadden
No. 53: Alameda Ta'amu, NT
The Steelers traded up in the fourth round of the 2012 draft to get this guy. Even though he didn't dress for a game last season, he'll likely get more time to develop as long as he behaves himself.
No. 52: Landry Jones, QB
The Steelers took Jones (pictured) in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. According to Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required), he's had a difficult time throwing spirals at organized team activities. If the 24-year-old Jones makes his mark in Pittsburgh, that likely means Ben Roethlisberger's career ends sooner than they hoped.
No. 51: Josh Victorian, CB
Victorian was helpless when injuries to Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen pressed him into duty late last season. However, fifth-round pick Terry Hawthorne could end up on the practice squad. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake says Hawthorne needs to work on his technique, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That will open the door for Victorian.
No. 50: Guy Whimper, OT
No. 49: J.D. Woods, WR
An undrafted rookie free agent from West Virginia, Woods is a dark-horse candidate to beat out Plaxico Burress as the fifth receiver. Burress will be 36 next season and won't be playing special teams. No. 5 receivers need to do that to earn their keep.
No. 48: Al Woods, DL
The fourth-year veteran played in a career-high 12 games last year for the Steelers.
No. 47: Nik Embernate, OG
Nastiness will get this undrafted rookie from San Diego State on the roster. He had to harness it early in his college career, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. He was ejected from a game for fighting as a freshman but still made 46 starts for the Aztecs.
No. 46: Marshall McFadden, ILB
McFadden can beat out Stevenson Sylvester for a spot.
45-41: Warren, Moorman, Dunn, Cromartie-Smith, Malecki
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No. 45: Greg Warren, LS
The long snapper has to go somewhere on the list. Warren has been the Steelers' long snapper since 2005. Expect him to beat out undrafted free agent Luke Ingram and keep his job.
No. 44: Brian Moorman, P
Look for the 13-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler to beat out Drew Butler in camp.
No. 43: Reggie Dunn, WR
The undrafted free agent has created quite a buzz. Dunn (pictured) returned four kickoffs for touchdowns last season at Utah. It remains to be seen if he can do that at the NFL level.
No. 42: Damon Cromartie-Smith, S
Even though the Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas, the departure of Will Allen and Ryan Mundy will open a roster spot for Cromartie-Smith.
No. 41: John Malecki, OG
Malecki appeared in one game as a rookie last season and will win a roster spot because of his ability to play center.
40-36: Brown, Paulson, Robinson, Cotchery, Thomas
No. 40: Curtis Brown, CB
Keenan Lewis' departure in free agency has shuffled the Steelers' cornerback unit. The signing of William Gay as the nickelback indicates they don't have the confidence in Brown to promote him.
No. 39: David Paulson, TE
Paulson made the team as a seventh-round draft pick last season and caught seven passes. With the return of Matt Spaeth, Paulson figures to be the third tight end when Heath Miller gets healthy. Paulson could change that equation by becoming more of a factor in the offense.
No. 38: Adrian Robinson, OLB
Robinson appeared in 10 games as a rookie last season, according to Pro Football Reference, and could make the team to provide depth at outside linebacker.
No. 37: Jerricho Cotchery, WR
Cotchery caught 16 passes in 2011 and 17 passes last season. Unless third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton is a disappointment, he probably won't move up the depth chart. But he should stick around as the Steelers' No. 4 receiver.
No. 36: Shamarko Thomas, S
is the lowest member of the Steelers' 2013 draft class on this list. For these guys, the projections are based on speculation.
The Steelers chose the 5'9", 213-pound Thomas in the fourth round of the 2013 draft as an eventual successor to either Troy Polamalu, who is 32, or Ryan Clark, who turns 34 in October.
Thomas led Syracuse with 85 tackles last season and forced three fumbles to earn first-team All-Big East honors.
Second-year man Robert Golden has moved ahead of Thomas on the safety depth chart at organized team activities, according to Steel City Insider (subscription required).
That doesn't necessarily mean Thomas is coming along too slowly. After all, no one has worn pads yet in 2013.
35-31: Gradkowski, Golden, Stephens-Howling, Williams, Johnson
No. 35: Bruce Gradkowski, QB
The Steelers finally have a backup quarterback younger than Ben Roethlisberger. The 30-year-old Gradkowski isn't much younger than the 31-year-old Roethlisberger, but he's still younger.
No. 34: Robert Golden, S
Undrafted last season, Golden played primarily on special teams before getting on the field with the defense late in the year. According to Steel City Insider (subscription required), Golden has moved ahead of rookie fourth-round draft pick Shamarko Thomas as the Steelers' No. 3 safety at organized team activities.
No. 33: LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB
The 5'7" Stephens-Howling was brought in as a free agent and will have a shot at returning kickoffs for the Steelers. He's returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, one in 2009 and two in 2010. He led the NFL with 1,548 kick return yards in 2010, according to Pro Football Reference.
No. 32: Vince Williams, ILB
The Steelers picked Williams (pictured) in the sixth round of the 2013 draft. According to Bob Labriola on Steelers.com LIVE, he was showing other players where to line up at rookie minicamp. That's an encouraging sign.
No. 31: Will Johnson, FB
Will Johnson could make David Johnson expendable with the job he's done in the H-back role for the Steelers. While David Johnson missed last season with an injury, Will Johnson caught 15 passes. That's only three less than David Johnson has caught in three years.
No. 30: Jonathan Dwyer, RB
Being the leading rusher with 623 yards for the NFL's No. 26 rushing attack is nothing to brag about. According to Steel City Insider (subscription required), however, Jonathan Dwyer seems to have taken his offseason conditioning more seriously.
No. 29: Kelvin Beachum, OG-OT
Despite being picked in the seventh round, five spots before Mr. Irrelevant, Kelvin Beachum not only made the team last year but started in five games.
Beachum has played both guard and tackle for the Steelers, and according to Steel City Insider (subscription required), he's taken snaps at center during organized team activities.
That kind of versatility makes Beachum quite relevant in Pittsburgh.
No. 28: Marcus Gilbert, OT
Both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Steel City Insider (subscription required) have indicated during organized team activities that Marcus Gilbert has the inside track to start at left tackle in 2013.
Steel City Insider says Gilbert played in five games without allowing a sack in 2012 before going down for the season with an ankle injury.
Gilbert was the Steelers' rookie of the year at right tackle in 2011. Now he's likely to replace Max Starks as Ben Roethlisberger's blind-side protector, a position Starks held since 2008.
No. 27: Jason Worilds, OLB
If the Steelers really believed Jason Worilds could fill James Harrison's menacing shoes, they wouldn't have taken Jarvis Jones in the first round of the draft in April.
Don't forget, though, that Worilds' sack total has increased in each of his three seasons. He went from two in 2010 to three in 2011 to five last season, with a couple of pass breakups thrown in.
Worilds-Jones could be the position battle of the summer in Pittsburgh.
No. 26: Cameron Heyward, DE
The Steelers' first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Cameron Heyward has been stuck behind Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood on the depth chart.
Heyward might not be developing as quickly as some other first-round draft choices in the NFL, but he showed a flicker of hope in the 2012 season finale. He had a career-high four combined tackles and shared a sack.
He could make big strides in Year 3.
No. 25: Mike Adams, OT
In his second season, the
6'3" 6'7", 323-pound Mike Adams is expected to start at right tackle for the Steelers in 2013.
Adams started six games at right tackle in 2012 before his season ended with an ankle injury.
Only three times in 2012 did a Steelers running back gain 100 yards in a game, and those three performances came in Adams' first three starts.
A second-round draft pick in 2012, Adams was named the Steelers' rookie of the year.
No. 24: Jarvis Jones, OLB
Even though the Steelers took Jarvis Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft, he's not the top rookie on this list because of the complexities of Dick LeBeau's defense.
No Steelers defensive player has started in Week 1 as a rookie since LeBeau became defensive coordinator in 2004.
It wouldn't be shocking, however, if Jones is the first.
Jones is ready-made for a 3-4 defense since that was the scheme used at Georgia, where in 2012 he led the nation with 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles.
The learning curve of LeBeau's defense might be more of a hurdle than Jason Worilds in Jones' quest to win a starting job.
No. 23: Isaac Redman, RB
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Undrafted Isaac Redman is entering his fifth year with the Steelers.
Redman has a knack for coming through in a pinch when the Steelers need him the most.
He caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Steelers' pivotal win at Baltimore in December of the 2010, which led to the AFC North title and ultimately a Super Bowl berth.
After Rashard Mendenhall tore his anterior cruciate ligament, Redman gained 121 yards in a losing effort in the playoff game at Denver.
Redman ran for a career-high 147 yards last year in an emotional 24-20 road win over the New York Giants days after Hurricane Sandy.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required) said during organized team activities that Redman has lost a lot of weight. Redman was listed at 6'0", 230 pounds last season.
Expect Redman to have a role in the Steelers' re-tooled backfield.
No. 22: Ziggy Hood, DE
Ziggy Hood is nothing if not durable.
Hood has played in every game since the Steelers took him in the first round of the 2009 draft. He's made 31 consecutive starts including the Steelers' 2011 playoff game.
Steelers defensive linemen don't necessarily have to fill up the stat sheet to be successful. They just have to occupy blockers so the linebackers can make plays. Still, Hood's tackle numbers have slowly increased every year.
Hood went from five total tackles, three assists and eight total tackles as a rookie to 20-15-5 in 2010, when he started nine games. In 2011, Hood improved to 31-19-12 and last year he posted career highs with 42-25-17.
He might have to fight off a challenge from Cameron Heyward to keep his starting job in 2012.
No. 21: Markus Wheaton, WR
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All eyes will be on Markus Wheaton to see if he can do what Mike Wallace did as a rookie wide receiver.
Like Wallace, Wheaton was drafted in the third round by the Steelers. Unlike Wallace, the word "polished" is used when describing Wheaton as a receiver.
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley used that word when talking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Wheaton after the Steelers drafted him in April.
Wheaton is Oregon State's all-time leading receiver with 227 receptions, more than Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
No. 20: Matt Spaeth, TE
Matt Spaeth played for the Steelers from 2007 to 2010 before going to the Chicago Bears.
The Steelers brought him back for a second tour of duty as insurance in case Heath Miller, who hurt his knee in December, isn't able to start the season.
Spaeth's only year with double-digit receptions was 2008, when he caught 17 passes. The strength of his game is blocking. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller gave the 6'7", 260-pounder a perfect blocking grade in his B/R NFL 1,000 series.
Having Spaeth back couldn't hurt.
No. 19: Ramon Foster, OG
Ramon Foster is entering his fifth year with the Steelers after arriving as an undrafted free agent in 2009.
Foster signed a three-year contract this spring and is the front-runner to start at left guard. He also has played tackle.
The 6'6", 325-pounder allowed just two sacks last season, according to Pro Football Focus via ESPN.com.
No. 18: David DeCastro, OG
The Steelers' first-round pick in 2012, David DeCastro tore his medial collateral ligament in the preseason.
DeCastro worked his way back and played in the last four games, starting three of them. He showed some promise and is projected to start at right guard in 2013.
No. 17: Le'Veon Bell, RB
Le'Veon Bell, chosen in the second round, is the highest ranked 2013 draft pick on this list.
There are signs that Bell's career can take off quicker than any of his draftmates.
Bell led the Big Ten with 1,793 rushing yards in 2012. According to STATS Inc. via Steel City Insider (subscription required), Bell led the nation by gaining 51 percent of his yards after contact.
He did all that behind a banged-up offensive line at Michigan State.
The durable Bell has a tendency to leap over defenders downfield. That could come in handy considering the NFL's new rule that prohibits running backs from lowering their heads and hitting with the crown of their helmets outside the tackle box.
No. 16: William Gay, CB
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The Steelers brought back William Gay this offseason after he played a year in Arizona.
The departure of Keenan Lewis as a free agent moves Cortez Allen into the starting lineup. Gay is expected to replace Allen as the nickelback.
As maligned as he has been, Gay saved two wins for the Steelers with fourth-quarter interceptions in 2011.
No. 15: Steve McLendon, NT
Steve McLendon, the heir to Casey Hampton at nose tackle, gets his chance this season.
McLendon might not be as stout as Hampton—although according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he weighs more than his listed 280 pounds—but he has more of a penchant for splash plays.
According to Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required), McLendon played less than a third of the snaps Hampton played last season, but had two sacks while Hampton had none.
McLendon also had six quarterback pressures while Hampton had nine and two tackles for loss while Hampton had five.
The Steelers signed McLendon to a three-year, $7.25 million contract this offseason after he visited the Green Bay Packers.
No. 14: LaMarr Woodley, OLB
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Steelers coaches and an anonymous teammate have expressed concerns about LaMarr Woodley's conditioning, according to Pro Football Talk.
Woodley had just four sacks in the last year-and-a-half after taking down quarterbacks 19 times in 2010 and the first half of 2011. He'll need to stay on the field more to reverse that trend in 2013.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required) said Woodley looked fit during organized team activities. We'll see if he's fit enough to be productive in pads.
No. 13: Emmanuel Sanders
The Steelers could have let Emmanuel Sanders go to the New England Patriots as a restricted free agent for a third-round draft pick in 2013.
They apparently valued Sanders more than what was behind door No. 2, matching the Patriots' offer of $2.5 million for 2013.
Sanders' career seems to be on an upward trajectory. He caught a career-high 44 passes in 2012 and led the Steelers with 14.2 yards per reception.
He also played in 16 games for the first time in a three-year career that's been marred by injuries.
If Sanders has a big year in 2013, he'll demand big bucks as an unrestricted free agent and the salary cap-strapped Steelers likely won't be able to sign him to a long-term contract.
Still, the Steelers are in a win-now situation. They likely would take a highly productive year from Sanders even if it means they lose him in 2014.
No. 12: Cortez Allen, CB
Cortez Allen has shown the Steelers enough to make Keenan Lewis expendable even though Lewis was second in the NFL with 23 passes defended in 2012, according to ESPN.com.
Allen will replace Lewis as the starting left cornerback.
When Ike Taylor was injured last season in Baltimore, Allen replaced him and broke up three passes in the Steelers' 23-20 win. Allen intercepted two passes, broke up three passes and forced a fumble to try to keep the Steelers' playoff hopes alive in a 13-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16.
Allen forced two more fumbles to help the Steelers beat the Browns in the season finale.
Because of Allen, the Steelers didn't mind losing Lewis to the Saints in free agency. After forcing just 35 combined turnovers in 2011 and 2012, the Steelers could use Allen's ball-hawking skills.
As impressive as Allen was in the last two games of 2012, the third-year cornerback doesn't crack the top 10 on this list because he still has to prove that he can sustain that productivity for a full season.
No. 11: Maurkice Pouncey, C
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Maurkice Pouncey has given the Steelers nothing but Pro Bowl seasons in his three-year career, even if his most recent selection was more on reputation.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranked Pouncey the No. 16 center in the NFL in 2012 in his B/R NFL 1,000 series, down from No. 14 in 2011.
Nonetheless, Pouncey showed enough versatility and unselfishness to play guard in the Steelers' win at Baltimore last season. He finished the season healthy for the first time in 2012, and his 45 career starts are the most among any of the Steelers' projected starting offensive linemen in 2013.
No. 10: Antonio Brown, WR
Antonio Brown was the Steelers' Most Valuable Player in 2011, but let the team down a little in 2012.
A penalty for running backwards into the end zone against the Redskins shows signs of immaturity.
In a 34-24 loss at home to the 7-9 San Diego Chargers, Brown epitomized just how lethargic the team was on that December day when he didn't bother to fall on the a loose ball in Steelers' end zone, thinking it was an incomplete pass and not a fumble. It turned out to be a fumble that the Chargers recovered for a touchdown.
Brown gets the benefit of the doubt and a spot on the top 10 on this list because of what he did in 2011. He caught 69 passes, set a team record with 2,211 all-purpose yards (according to Pro Football Reference) and made the Pro Bowl.
Steelers fans can only hope Brown's 2012 lapses were an aberration.
No. 9: Shaun Suisham, K
Shaun Suisham bounced back from a subpar 2011 season and made 28 of his 31 field-goal attempts in 2012. Two of those misses were from more than 50 yards. His percentage of 90.3 is a career high for a 16-game season.
Three of Suisham's field goals in 2012 were game-winners. His 34-yarder as time ran out gave the Steelers a 16-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. His 23-yarder in overtime was the difference in a 16-13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Steelers' 23-20 win at Baltimore was decided by Suisham's 42-yarder as time ran out.
Whatever Suisham's offseason regimen was in 2012, he needs to do it again this year.
No. 8: Brett Keisel, DE
Brett Keisel's 4.5 sacks in 2012 were one short of his career high, which he set in 2006.
Any sacks the Steelers get from Keisel are gravy. His primary function is stopping the run, and he factored in a run defense that was second in the NFL in 2012.
Keisel will turn 35 in September, but he showed no signs of slowing down last season, playing in all 16 games.
Cameron Heyward has a better chance of beating out Ziggy Hood for a starting job than Keisel.
No. 7: Larry Foote, ILB
The Steelers' defensive signal-caller has been a steady presence at inside linebacker.
Larry Foote, who will be 33 next season, led the Steelers with 113 combined tackles in 2012 and matched his career high with four sacks.
Foote played in all 16 games last season and during the offseason has begun to show characteristics of a vocal leader, telling Go Blue Wolverine the Steelers are "pissed" they didn't make the playoffs.
Now Foote and the Steelers just have to do something about it.
No. 6: Troy Polamalu, SS
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Don't put those wigs and No. 43 jerseys in the attic just yet.
There's still some tread on Troy Polamalu's tires.
Polamalu missed nine games with a torn calf muscle in 2012. It was the second time in four years that he missed more than half the season with an injury.
He returned for the final five games and gradually became more of a factor each week. In the last two games, Polamalu looked like his old self with an interception, a sack and three pass breakups.
During the offseason, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Polamalu has worked with a physical therapist on breaking up scar tissue that contributed to his injuries last season.
If the 32-year-old Polamalu can stay healthy, don't be surprised if he has one monster season left in him.
No. 5: Heath Miller, TE
Heath Miller was the Steelers' Most Valuable Player last season. He might have been No. 1 on this list had he not torn multiple ligaments in his right knee in Week 16. It's uncertain if he will be ready to go on opening day in 2013.
According to WDVE via Rotoworld, Ben Roethlisberger said in April that Miller was walking without a limp. More recently, Roethlisberger told WDVE that he has "no doubt" Miller will be in the Week 1 lineup.
Perhaps it's a good sign that the Steelers didn't take a tight end with any of their nine draft picks, even though they did acquire Matt Spaeth, Miller's former backup.
Miller caught a career-high eight touchdown passes in 2012 and was five off his career high with 71 receptions before his season ended prematurely.
No. 4: Ike Taylor, CB
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Ike Taylor was on pace to break up more passes last season than he had in any season since 2005, when the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.
Taylor broke up 13 passes in 12 games before going down for the year with a fractured right leg at Baltimore.
The Steelers pulled together to beat the eventual Super Bowl champions in that game, but Taylor's absence in the secondary was a factor in the subsequent three-game losing streak that knocked them out of playoff contention.
The win in Baltimore was the last of seven straight games in which the Steelers allowed fewer than 200 passing yards. Without Taylor, they allowed 200, 328 and 253 yards in losses to the Chargers, Cowboys and Bengals, according to Pro Football Reference.
Taylor turned 33 in May, but at organized team activities he appeared fully recovered from his injury according to Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider (subscription required). Wexell said Taylor "hasn't lost a step."
No. 3: Ben Roethlisberger, QB
Ben Roethlisberger was ninth in the NFL last season with 26 touchdown passes. His passer rating of 97.0 is higher than his career average of 92.7.
He would be ranked higher if it weren't for his injuries last season and the way he finished the year because of those injuries.
Roethlisberger missed three games because of a sprained shoulder and dislocated rib he suffered in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
When he returned, he threw four interceptions during a three-game losing streak that dashed the Steelers' playoff hopes. That was half of the eight interceptions Roethlisberger threw all year.
Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he's fully recovered from his injuries. But according to Pro Football Reference he's been sacked 344 times, leading all active players. How much punishment can his 31-year-old body take?
Championships are never impossible in Pittsburgh as long as Roethlisberger's limbs remain attached.
No. 2: Ryan Clark, FS
Ryan Clark is one of three Steelers to make more than 100 combined tackles in 2012. He was third on the team with 102.
No one else came close to the century mark in tackles. Keenan Lewis (71) and James Harrison (70), the Steelers' No. 4 and No. 5 tacklers, will wear different uniforms in 2013.
Clark also intercepted two passes, broke up seven passes and forced two fumbles in 2012.
He suffered a concussion last season, but the only games he's completely missed since the beginning of 2009 are the games in Denver. Clark doesn't play in Denver because of a health condition that causes problems in high altitude.
Clark sat out the Steelers' season opener in Denver last season, their 2011 AFC wild-card loss at Denver and a regular-season game in 2009.
Since the Steelers aren't scheduled the play at Denver in the 2013 regular season, Clark enters the year without any lingering health questions, which moves him ahead of Polamalu, Miller and Roethlisberger on this list.
No. 1: Lawrence Timmons, ILB
There might be more dominating personalities on the Steelers defense, but Lawrence Timmons is their best overall defender.
According to Steel City Insider (subscription required), Timmons won a Triple Crown of sorts in 2012. He is the first Steeler since Joey Porter in 2002 to lead, or have a share of the team lead, in tackles, sacks and interceptions.
Timmons led the Steelers with three interceptions in 2012. One of them set up the winning field goal in overtime against the Kansas City Chiefs. Another was returned for a touchdown in Cleveland.
Timmons and James Harrison shared the Steelers' sack lead last season with six each, and Timmons tied with Larry Foote for the team lead with 75 total tackles.
With 106 combined tackles, Timmons rounds out the Steelers' Big Three tacklers along with Clark and Foote.
Unlike other Steelers defensive players, Timmons hasn't missed a game since 2009.
The drafting of Jarvis Jones makes it less likely that Timmons will have to move to outside linebacker. Assuming he plays a full season at inside linebacker, his more natural position, look for Timmons to finally get the recognition he deserves in 2013.