Early Predictions for the Steelers' Final 53-Man Roster
Now that the draft is in the books, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a daunting task ahead of them. They must take the 80-plus players they have on the roster and begin paring them down to the final 53-man roster.
Pittsburgh will take between now and late August to figure out which 53 players fit this team the best and can help it right the ship from two 8-8 seasons. The Steelers are going to have some tough decisions to make this offseason.
They put together a very good draft, but they also had some nice young players already on the roster. Numbers are limited, so who ends up making the final cut and who ends up on the practice squad will be interesting.
Speaking of the practice squad, the NFL designates that a team can have eight players on their practice squad each year. The Steelers have a couple of undrafted free agents who could be prime candidates for the PS this year, which could bump some other players off the team.
With the players the Steelers have right now, here is a possible scenario for the final 53-man roster. Keeping in mind, once this team gets some June 1 cap relief, it could be a player in free agency again. In particular, Pittsburgh could be in the mix for a veteran cornerback to bolster depth.
QB(3)—Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones
This unit appears to be locked in. Pittsburgh did sign undrafted free-agent quarterback Brendon Kay, but he is no threat to take a roster spot. The most interesting part of this could be if Landry Jones develops enough to move to No. 2 on the depth chart.
Bruce Gradkowski was Ben Roethlisberger’s backup in 2013, but he never took a regular-season snap. While everyone is hopeful Roethlisberger will once again get 16 regular-season starts in 2014, history says otherwise. In a tight AFC North, who serves as the backup for potentially one or two starts during the year could be vital.
RB(4)—Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer and Will Johnson
The reins of Pittsburgh's rushing attack will fall firmly on Le'Veon Bell's shoulders. He finished 2013 with 289 touches in 13 games, primarily due to lack of depth on the roster. 2014 promises to provide some relief for him.
Bell’s primary backups will be LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer, and both should not just provide the Steelers added dimensions to the offense, but also keep Bell’s workload in check. Bell and Blount will provide the hammer in the run game, and Archer can be that change-of-pace weapon.
Fullback Will Johnson is included on this, as Pittsburgh is afraid to line up old school and pound it right at teams.
WR(6)—Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Justin Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey
There was a time where the Steelers’ wide receiver depth chart was something of a concern. After losing Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery via free agency, the cupboards were quite bare. However, things are looking up—way up.
It is a given that Antonio Brown will be one of the starting wide receivers. He is one of the five best wide receivers in the NFL. Who starts opposite him is still a matter up for some debate. Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant and Lance Moore all have the potential to win that spot. Regardless, these four are pretty well locked in.
If the Steelers choose to carry six wide receivers, Justin Brown’s experience and Darrius Heyward-Bey’s speed would be enticing to round out the depth chart. However, don’t rule out Derek Moye making a push to supplant one of those.
TE(4)—Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Paulson and Michael Palmer
The Steelers look to be carrying four tight ends in 2014. The givens on this list are starter Heath Miller and his primary backup, Matt Spaeth. Both are solid football players who fit perfectly with what Pittsburgh wants to do. The Steelers still expect their tight ends to be blockers just as they are wide receivers.
The other two tight end spots will be up for grabs between four players. David Paulson and Michael Palmer would seem to have the inside track to make the final roster. However, don’t rule out rookies Rob Blanchflower or Eric Waters to steal one of those spots.
OT(8)—Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Wesley Johnson, Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper
The Steelers would be smart to carry eight offensive linemen this season. They surely learned their lesson from last year, when injuries during the course of a game ran them completely out of available linemen during a game.
If we assume the starting five will be Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert, the three backups need to be versatile. Cody Wallace can play guard or center, while Guy Whimper can come in and contribute at tackle or guard. Rookie Wesley Johnson has a ton of potential and has experience at all five spots.
DL(6)—Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon, Cam Thomas, Stephon Tuitt, Josh Mauro and Nicholas Williams
For this we lump defensive ends and tackles together. Many of these players and positions are interchangeable in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. Pittsburgh is almost sure to keep Cameron Heyward, Cam Thomas and Steve McLendon on the roster. These are the most experienced guys on the roster.
This leaves a handful of players vying for two spots. The fan favorite is likely rookie Daniel McCullers. However, McCullers might be better served to spend a year on the practice squad getting his game in order. Also, with two nose tackles among the top needs, defensive ends such as Josh Mauro and Nicholas Williams make more sense.
LB(9)—Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Jason Worilds, Chris Carter, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Jordan Zumwalt and Arthur Moats
If there is any spot on this roster where there is an excess of players, it is linebacker. For this scenario, nine make the roster. The starters are likely Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Jason Worilds.
That leaves Chris Carter, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Jordan Zumwalt and Arthur Moats as depth. This is a position that was viewed as an area of weakness in 2013, but it looks to be a position of strength in 2014.
One interesting name to think about is Shepherd linebacker Howard Jones. Jones was signed as an undrafted free agent, but he has the speed and athleticism to make this team. If a player such as Moats struggles or Spence isn’t ready, Jones could be the man.
CB(5)—Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Shaquille Richardson and Isaiah Green
Cornerback is one position where Pittsburgh could realistically add some talent. Pittsburgh typically dressed five cornerbacks, so based upon that, here is what the group could look like on opening day.
Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen would be the starters, with William Gay as the nickel cornerback. This scenario would have rookie Shaquille Richardson and Isaiah Green would be battling to be the dime cornerback, while the others would need to make their mark on special teams.
Keep in mind, cornerback was so thin in 2013 that safety Shamarko Thomas was the dime cornerback for several games. Looking ahead, it would be ideal if this team could identify a solid depth chart at cornerback and allow Thomas to remain at safety.
S(5)—Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden and Will Allen
Things are really looking up for the Steelers’ safeties. Mike Mitchell brings speed and aggression on the back end. Troy Polamalu continues to play at a high level around the line of scrimmage. If we assume that the Steelers keep five safeties,
The other three safeties are most likely Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden and Will Allen. Safety is the other spot where Pittsburgh could be a player in free agency. If a team cuts an overpriced veteran loose, the Steelers could snatch them up, likely letting Allen walk.
Rounding out the final 53, we come to special teams. Long snapper Greg Warren has been with the Steelers for 10 seasons and has been a solid and steady performer.
The kicking duties will once again fall on the steady leg of Shaun Suisham. Suisham is rock-solid and one of the best kickers in the league. Kicking duties are in good hands.
The punting chores are still a bit up in the air. There’s no doubt Brad Wing has a big leg. Unfortunately, he is completely untested in the NFL. If he does well in preseason performances, the job should be his. If not, the team could be scrambling to find someone who can punt.
All player data and info courtesy of the Steelers' official website.