Predicting the Last 5 In, Last 5 Out for Steelers' Final 53-Man Roster
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a month away from trimming their roster down to 53 players. They have yet to practice with pads on and with full contact allowed, and there are five preseason games that will help determine who is ready for regular-season action and who isn't.
But with OTAs and minicamp over, it's a good time to make a few early predictions about the Steelers' final roster cuts. Here are the last five in and the last five out—at least, from a late-June perspective.
In: OL B.J. Finney
Kansas State's B.J. Finney was a career starter at center in college. But he can do so much more than that for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That's why the undrafted rookie looks likely to be one of the final players to make the team's 53-man roster later this summer.
Steelers Depot's Alex Kozora noted that Finney has lined up at right guard in OTAs. Additionally, he has some previous experience at tackle. This versatility is prized in offensive linemen. If one can do the job of two, or even three backups, that frees up a roster spot to use on another position.
This, along with Finney's maturity as a family man and the fact that he's already shown enthusiasm for the Steelers' charitable works, makes him a good candidate to make the final roster this year.
In: CB Kevin Fogg
Though the Steelers have a trio of experienced cornerbacks in Cortez Allen, William Gay and Antwon Blake, along with two rookies in Senquez Golson and Doran Grant, that doesn't mean the Steelers will be set with those five. And there's no guarantee that Grant, in particular, will make the active roster rather than the practice squad.
That's where Kevin Fogg comes in. Fogg, an undrafted player from 2014, joined the Steelers on a futures contract during the offseason. And though he's lacking in NFL experience, he has impressed in practices thus far. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly recently said that Fogg "has the talent to stick" and compared him favorably to Blake, who was in a similar situation a year ago.
Fogg may not be as experienced as Allen, Gay or even Blake. But he knows more about playing in the NFL than Golson and Grant at this point. He'd provide the Steelers with some useful depth, especially if he also has special teams upside to go with it.
In: TE Cameron Clear
There is no doubt that tight ends Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and Jesse James are destined for the Steelers' 53-man roster this year. But a fourth tight end could also sneak by—the undrafted Cameron Clear.
Clear has already earned the unprovoked praise of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who said to Steelers Nation Radio (via Steelers Depot):
It's like this free agent Cameron Clear that we have. I mean, he's a big, good-looking body and had about six catches last year and wasn't on the field. So it's just what you value and what you think gives you the best chance to win, and I think that as long as we're all here, we'll value a big tight end that can catch and block.
Clear had just nine receptions in two years at Texas A&M. But if he is as good as Haley thinks he is when the pads come on and preseason games kick off, then there will easily be a place for Clear on the 53-man roster.
In: P Jordan Berry
Jordan Berry has already sent one would-be Steelers punter home in Richie Leone. And now, he may unseat 2014 starter Brad Wing as well.
Berry, who grew up nearly 90 minutes away from Wing in Australia, comes to the Steelers as Eastern Kentucky's punting leader after averaging 43.3 yards per punt as a senior. And as Steelers Depot's Alex Kozora points out, over 22 percent of his collegiate punts traveled 50 or more yards, and 30 percent in his senior year. He also kicked three that traveled over 70 yards.
If Berry can keep up that type of punting production in live-game situations throughout the preseason, then the Steelers will have no choice but to move forward with him instead of Wing.
In: QB/WR Tyler Murphy
Hybrid quarterback-receiver Tyler Murphy came to the Steelers as an undrafted rookie this spring and has a long way to go to make the 53-man roster. But because he has positional versatility, he is an intriguing player to watch this offseason.
But it's not just his ability to play both quarterback and receiver that makes him stand out. Unlike fellow "slasher" Devin Gardner, who is also on Pittsburgh's roster, Murphy can also work on the special-teams coverage units.
Because this sets him apart from Gardner, he gets the edge. But that could easily change depending on how the duo perform during the preseason.
Out: QB/WR Devin Gardner
If Murphy is in, Gardner is out. But again, training camp and the preseason could result in that flipping. Though Murphy has the special teams upside—or at least it seems that way for now—Gardner has the greater receiving experience, with 18 career receptions for 286 yards and four touchdowns at Michigan.
It really depends on what the Steelers want out of their receivers/quarterbacks. Do they want someone who can play wideout but can also serve as the team's No. 3 quarterback? Or do they want a former quarterback who can play wideout—but who can also throw trick-play passes and little more?
Because Murphy can do all of these things while working in coverage, he's one of the final players in, making Gardner one of the last cuts. But it wouldn't be far-fetched to see Gardner make the roster instead.
Out: P Brad Wing
With Jordan Berry in as punter, Brad Wing is out. And if Berry can perform as well in the preseason as he did in college, it would be the right move.
Wing had 61 punts last year that traveled for a total of 2,667 yards, or 43.7 yards per punt. Though he hit a long of 74 yards, he managed to punt the football within opponents' 20-yard lines just 32.8 percent of the time last season.
In a game that hinges on field position, every advantage counts. If Wing's punts are costing the Steelers even one yard, and Berry is not, then Wing will be a late-season roster cut. But he will get the benefit of the doubt, with the Steelers likely extending this competition through all five preseason games and opting against making their final decision too soon.
Out: CB B.W. Webb
If it's true that cornerback Kevin Fogg looks like this season's iteration of Antwon Blake, then that's bad news for fellow cornerback B.W. Webb.
Webb was signed late last August after being cut by the Dallas Cowboys, where the 2013 fourth-round pick spent his rookie season. He didn't appear as a cornerback until late in the 2014 season, totaling six snaps played according to Pro Football Focus. Instead, he was mostly a special teams fixture.
But with Fogg distinguishing himself and the Steelers possessing young players like Doran Grant and Gerod Holliman, who could take on Webb's special teams duties, it looks like Webb could be on the outside looking in when the Steelers make their final roster cuts in September.
Out: OL Cody Wallace
Versatility is the reason that the Steelers are currently projected to keep rookie offensive lineman B.J. Finney this year. But it's also why they will have to make an attendant cut on the line—and it looks like Cody Wallace may be the one to go.
Wallace can play both guard and center and appeared in four games at left guard last year, playing 153 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. But he also recorded negative grades as both a run-blocker and a pass protector.
Finney simply has more upside, while Wallace's ceiling has already been reached. Another bonus to cutting Wallace is that it would give the Steelers $1.1 million in salary-cap room, while costing them just $150,000 in dead money, according to Over The Cap. There's simply too much working against Wallace to assume, at this time, that he'll make the 53-man roster in 2015.
Out: TE Rob Blanchflower
The Steelers' selection of tight end Jesse James in Round 5 of the 2015 NFL draft didn't spell the end for fellow tight end Rob Blanchflower, but it didn't help matters either. And with Todd Haley praising Cameron Clear, Heath Miller set to reprise his starting role and Matt Spaeth an exceptional blocker, Blanchflower's job is in even further jeopardy.
But what really makes Blanchflower a potential late-summer cut is that he hasn't even managed to stay healthy enough for the Steelers to evaluate where his development is at. As Steelers Depot's Matthew Marczi points out, not only did Blanchflower struggle through injuries in his senior season at Oregon, he also spent much of his rookie-year training camp and preseason hurt a year ago.
And now, Blanchflower hasn't been participating much in OTAs or minicamp with "unreported ailments," which means he hasn't had a chance to compete with James, Clear or any of the Steelers' other tight ends. As the cliche goes, "The best ability is availability," and that holds true in the NFL, so it doesn't look good for Blanchflower.
Last year, the Steelers were patient with Blanchflower, keeping him on the practice squad. But now, still unhealthy and with more options at the position, expect Blanchflower to be released later this summer.