Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Team Roster: Report Card Grades for Every Position

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor ISeptember 1, 2013

Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Team Roster: Report Card Grades for Every Position

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers got their roster down to 53 players, adding 21 more cuts to the roll. They do this with the understanding this roster is far from "final" and there will be more changes.

    The Steelers went heavy at positions like offensive line and tight end to account for injuries and to have bodies available to make moves should the waiver wire open up an opportunity.

    Every year teams cut talented football players strictly based on numbers, so there could be some viable options out there for them very soon. However, until then, let's assign some grades to the positional units as they stand now.



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    The Steelers will once again carry three quarterbacks. This unit is led by Ben Roethlisberger, one of the best all-around quarterbacks in the league. Roethlisberger's game has been characterized as "ugly, but effective" at times, and I tend to agree. 

    However, Roethlisberger is elite. Unfortunately, he is not indestructible. In 2012, the backup quarterbacks on the roster had a significant impact on the negative outcome of the season. The Steelers staff recognized that and upgraded both backup quarterback positions.

    The primary backup will be Bruce Gradkowski. With seven years in the league and 20 career starts under his belt, Gradkowski will provide an athletic counterpart to Roethlisberger should he be needed.

    Rookie Landry Jones rounds out the quarterback depth chart. Jones was one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football history. He has been inconsistent in the preseason but was good enough to beat out John Parker Wilson. 

    As a whole, this group is a major upgrade over last year.


    No. 1: Ben Roethlisberger

    No. 2: Bruce Gradkowski

    No. 3: Landry Jones

    GRADE: A- 

Running Backs

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    If there was a shock to the roster cuts, it was the Steelers releasing last season's leading rusher, Jonathan Dwyer. When rookie Le'Veon Bell was injured, many surmised that Dwyer would be next up.

    Instead, Dwyer struggled with his weight, with holding onto the football and in pass protection. Those three issues added up to him being part of the final cuts.

    This leaves an interesting bag of running backs. Until Bell is healthy, it will likely be veteran Isaac Redman taking most of the reps. Backups Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling have each shown flashes. They should both be in the mix situationally, where their unique talents will be of great benefit. 

    Once Bell is healthy, I expect him to find his way up the depth chart quite quickly. But for now, the Steelers rushing attack should be in safe hands.

    It is worth nothing the Steelers will also carry a fullback. Will Johnson will work as a lead blocker for the season. Many teams don't even bother to carry a fullback, but I expect to see Johnson on the field a great deal.


    No. 1: Isaac Redman

    No. 2: LaRod Stephen-Howling

    No. 3: Felix Jones

    No. 4: Le'Veon Bell

    GRADE: B

Wide Receivers

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    The Steelers wide receivers took a hit with the loss of Mike Wallace in free agency. However, the Steelers did an excellent job with the players already on the roster, as well as their additions. This is a unit that is predicated on speed and the ability to turn short throws into long runs.

    Starters will be Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Both are veterans on the roster and have played significant roles in the offense before. The Steelers also like to run "11 personnel," with three wide receivers, so either veteran Jerricho Cotchery or rookie Markus Wheaton should see a significant number of reps.

    This group as a whole has tons of speed. They are perfect fits for what the Steelers want to do on offense. This is a franchise that has boasted some very good groups of wide receivers, but this is among the most athletic I have ever seen.


    No. 1: Antonio Brown

    No. 2: Emmanuel Sanders

    No. 3: Jerricho Cotchery

    No. 4: Markus Wheaton

    No. 5: Derek Moye

    GRADE: B+ 

Tight Ends

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    The Steelers love to employ "12 personnel" (1 RB, 2 TE) sets. It gives them a tremendous schematic advantage on offense. The same formation can be used for a power run play as for attacking downfield in play action. 

    The caveat to this is that Steelers tight ends must not only be able to run block, but also must be very good receivers as well. Here enters Heath Miller. Miller is one of the most complete tight ends in the league and adds a dimension that no other tight end on the roster can.

    So, while Miller is on the active roster, he is still recovering from offseason knee surgery. The rest of the depth chart is going to have to try and keep up. 

    That is not to say there isn't talent there, because there is. However, Matt Spaeth is likely headed to injure reserve, leaving David Paulson, David Johnson and Michael Palmer to fill the void until Miller returns.

    This a position where I can absolutely see the Steelers using Spaeth and Palmer's spots as open spots to be filled by acquisitions from the recently released. This unit is very thin until Miller gets back. From a planning perspective, the options in the passing game out of the 12 personnel sets will be limited.


    No. 1: David Paulson

    No. 2: David Johnson

    No. 3: Michael Palmer

    No. 4: Heath Miller

    GRADE: C+

Offensive Tackles

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers chose to employ a zone-blocking scheme this offseason. The problem with that is neither of the Steelers starting tackles, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, have the look of zone-blocking tackles. 

    Athletic requirements are significant, and these two are a bit more of the lumbering power-blocking type of tackles. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers compensate for that in their play-calling.

    It could be a case where Gilbert and Adams are asked to double with the guards and the outside end is blocked by a fullback or tight end. Regardless, I fully expect another year of Roethlisberger running for his life on a regular basis.

    Depth at tackle is far from impressive. Guy Whimper and Kelvin Beachum will compose the entirety of the depth chart for the time being. I don't buy that Whimper will be on the roster once the Steelers have a chance to fit the waivers for an upgrade.

    Beachum will also be asked to provide depth at guard. So it's very clear that while the starters have potential, the depth is shaky.


    LT: Mike Adams

    RT: Marcus Gilbert

    Reserve: Guy Whimper

    Reserve: Kelvin Beachum

    GRADE: C-

Offensive Guard

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    As concerning as the Steelers tackle situation is, the situation at guard is only slightly better. David DeCastro appears to have settled in as the starting right guard for the foreseeable future. He is the best lineman on the roster in both run-blocking and pass support.

    Left guard is Ramon Foster, who is the very definition of an average offensive lineman. He is not the worst player among the starting five but brings very little remarkable to the table.

    Beyond the starters, it is again Kelvin Beachum, along with John Malecki providing depth. Beachum is a serviceable backup but almost completely unremarkable in every way. 

    Malecki is likely on the roster until a point where the Steelers find a better option on waivers and make a move. Just like with the tackle position, depth is certainly a concern.


    LG: Ramon Foster

    RG: David DeCastro

    Reserve: Kelvin Beachum

    Reserve: John Malecki

    GRADE: B-


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    Last year, center Maurkice Pouncey was praised across the league for his excellent play. He was voted to the Pro Bowl, which many consider reserved for the top at their position.

    The eyeball test also told me he was never as good as his press clippings. So, when ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required) supported this claim by ranking Pouncey outside of the top 10 centers in the league last year, I felt vindicated.

    But all that said, Pouncey is the guy at center this year, and he looks to bounce back with the new zone-blocking scheme in place. Pouncey is agile and does a great job getting out to the second level and engaging smaller, quicker players.

    The only backup on the roster for Pouncey will be John Malecki. Again, this team simply cannot afford any injuries.


    C: Maurkice Pouncey

    Reserve: John Malecki

    GRADE: B

Defensive Line

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    For this exercise, I am lumping defensive ends and defensive tackles together. The Steelers employ a 3-4 base defense, which moves players between those three spots, making them almost interchangeable.

    At this point, the starters are set. Defensive end Brett Keisel will play the 5-technique on the right, and Ziggy Hood will be on the left. Hood is finally starting to come into his own, and Keisel continues to hold off the youngsters on this roster for a starting spot.

    The new starting nose tackle is Steve McLendon, who replaces veteran Casey Hampton. McLendon is bigger this season and looks to be ready to anchor the middle of this defense. He plays with excellent leverage and a violent punch at the snap.

    Primary backups for all three spots will be Al Woods, Cameron Heyward and Loni Fangupo. Fangupo will be the primary backup to McLendon and Woods and Heyward will be reserves for the ends.

    Depending on the sets the Steelers use, any of these players could be asked to slide inside to a more traditional defensive tackle role, and based on preseason do so very well.

    Overall, the talent among these six is very good. The Steelers staff is going to ask for more from this group in terms of pass rushing. This means when you are the next man up, you have better be ready to make a play.


    LDE: Ziggy Hood

    RDE: Brett Keisel

    NT: Steve McLendon

    Reserve: Cameron Heyward

    Reserve: Al Woods

    Reserve: Loni Fangupo

    GRADE: B+

Outside Linebackers

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    The most glamorous part of being a 3-4 rush outside linebacker is that they are the primary pass-rushers on the team. They often line up wide of the defensive end, in a two-point stance and fire off the ball. 

    Teams like the Steelers are always looking to stockpile these types of explosive players. After losing James Harrison to free agency, the pass-rushing duties will fall on LaMarr Woodley on the left and Jason Worilds on the right. 

    Personally, neither inspire me with a ton of confidence, so I am more looking forward to seeing rookie Jarvis Jones on the field early and often. Jones was one of the most productive pass-rushers in all of college football last season.

    Outisde of this rotation, the Steelers are going to hope to catch lightning in a bottle with Chris Carter, who came on strong in the final preseason game to beat out Alan Baxter.

    Overall, this group is solid but lacking that elite player on the outside. The defensive staff will have to become very creative in order to create pressure again this year.


    Left OLB: LaMarr Woodley

    Right OLB: Jason Worilds

    Reserve: Jarvis Jones

    Reserve: Chris Carter

    GRADE: B

Inside Linebackers

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    Lawrence Timmons is far and away the best player on the Steelers defense. There is literally nothing he cannot do on the field. His combination of speed and size is ideal for the position, and the coaches have just begun to tap into his potential.

    This preseason, Timmons lined up at all four linebacker spots in various sets and formations. He is a natural run defender with great instincts and explosion. Timmons can also blitz and rush the passer from the inside or outside and even drop into coverage if need be.

    The other starting inside linebacker is veteran Larry Foote. Foote is a nice player who had a very good 2012 season, but there is a question of just how much longer he can play. It would be ideal if one of the young players on the roster could replace Foote at some point in the season.

    Of the two reserves on the roster, Vince Williams is the player I am counting on. He's a hard worker, physical, and is showing that he has acclimated himself to the offense pretty quickly.


    LILB: Larry Foote

    RILB: Lawrence Timmons

    Reserve: Vince Williams

    Reserve: Kion Wilson

    GRADE: B+


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    Cornerback was a position of weakness for the Steelers in 2012. Many fans try to defend their play, but again according to our friends at Pro Football Focus, neither Ike Taylor or Keenan Lewis ranked among the top 32 cornerbacks in the league in 2012.

    Out is Lewis, and in is Cortez Allen, who actually graded out at the 17th best cornerback last year. This is a significant upgrade, even if Taylor is still lined up on the other side.

    William Gay will likely be the nickel cornerback, with Curtis Brown in the dime. Isaiah Green rounds out the five cornerbacks on the roster and will likely have his greatest impact on special teams.

    The Steelers traditionally employ more press zone coverage, but when I saw this preseason was more press man, or off zone, accounting for the type of pressures the front seven were employing.

    Overall, this group is better. Allen on the field for a full season can only mean good things. Taylor needs to be more consistent to justify him staying on the field again for Gay or Brown.


    LCB: Cortez Allen

    RCB: Ike Taylor

    Nickel CB: William Gay

    Dime CB: Curtis Brown

    Reserve: Isaiah Green

    GRADE: B


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    When critics of the Steelers discuss their age, they typically point to the Steelers starting safeties. Both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are looking a bit past their prime but can still play. If the Steelers can get a few more seasons out of both, they should be very pleased. 

    Clark and Polamalu both make up for a lack of technique with agression and intimidation. Both can deliver a blow if need be, and often times the threat of that hit is enough to keep receivers out of their area.

    But even with their advancing age, the future is bright. The Steelers have three very talented young safeties behind Polamalu and Clark. Damon Cromartie-Smith, Robert Golden, and Shamarko Thomas are all interchangeable parts in terms of which safety position they can play. This year might be a tryout for each of them as to where they will be in the future.


    FS: Ryan Clark

    SS: Troy Polamalu

    Reserve: Damon Cromartie-Smith

    Reserve: Robert Golden

    Reserve: Shamarko Thomas

    GRADE: B+

Special Teams

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    The Steelers have had their problems with special teams. Mainly, it's been with coverage concerns and far too many big returns. You can see an effort to improve this with the Steelers retaining young, athletic players as reserves on the roster. 

    Kicking duties will be handled by Shaun Suisham, who has been with the Steelers since 2005 and has been a steady performer in the kicking game.

    The preseason did have a battle for the starting punting job, which was ultimately won by Drew Butler over Brian Mooreman. While Butler isn't among the punting elite, he is a solid player who will not detract from the coverage teams.

    Kick return duties are a bit up in the air. Some believe that Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will handle all the returns, but I have always felt that players who are starters on offense should not be returning kicks.

    I am betting Markus Wheaton will be the primary punt returner and could pair with Felix Jones to return kicks.


    K: Shaun Suisham

    P: Drew Butler

    LS: Greg Warren

    KR: Felix Jones

    PR: Markus Wheaton

    GRADE: B