Steelers Players Who Need Impressive Camp to Avoid Being Cut

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistJuly 14, 2021

Steelers Players Who Need Impressive Camp to Avoid Being Cut

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the deepest running back depth charts in the NFL

    The addition of first-round selection Najee Harris added to that depth, but it also altered the competition for roster spots in training camp. 

    Pittsburgh has a clear No. 1 feature back in the Alabama product, and everyone else is playing to fill in the backup role. 

    The Steelers' good problem is they have a handful of running backs who can land the second and third spots beneath Harris. 

    Mike Tomlin and his staff will have to cut one or two of those players by the end of training camp, and they may be forced into deciding between players who have been around the franchise for a few years and a new addition to the running back room.

Kalen Ballage

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Kalen Ballage entered himself into a difficult situation when he signed a one-year deal with the Steelers. 

    The 25-year-old running back has to fight with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland just to get on to the depth chart. 

    Ballage's overall numbers in three NFL seasons are not great. He recorded a career-best 303 rushing yards in 2020 when he split time with the New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers

    Ballage enters training camp at a disadvantage because he does not have great career statistics and Snell and McFarland have experience within the Steelers offense. 

    The fourth-year player could open up an advantage in the competition with his pass-catching ability since he had 29 receptions on 37 targets in 2020. 

    If Ballage were to make the roster, he might have a minimal impact in the passing game since the Steelers carry an abundance of pass-catchers and added tight end Pat Freiermuth to the collection in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft.

    Ballage's ceiling is to surprise in training camp and earn the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, but his previous career totals suggest that may not happen and he may be better off looking for a backup role elsewhere. 

Jaylen Samuels

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The additions of Harris and Freiermuth in the draft could squeeze out Jaylen Samuels' role in the Pittsburgh offense. 

    Samuels has been used as an H-back type player who has chipped in in a reserve capacity in both aspects of the offense. 

    Samuels is not the first-choice full back. That role belongs to Derek Watt. His pass-catching abilities might keep him on the roster, but there may not be enough opportunities for him to shine within the offense. 

    In 2020, Samuels produced nine receptions for 46 yards and carried the ball on nine occasions, both of which were steep declines from his 2019 totals. 

    Samuels is a known commodity to the Steelers coaching staff at this point, so unless he has a fantastic training camp, he may be on the chopping block in August. 

    Samuels will be at a disadvantage in a blocking role behind Watt, will not earn more carries than the true running backs and may have his role in the passing game diminished by the new additions. 

    All of those factors could lead to a tough training camp for the fourth-year player, and it might lead to him finding a better situation elsewhere. 

Ulysees Gilbert III

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Ulysees Gilbert III appeared in 11 games since he was brought in as a sixth-round selection in 2019. 

    His inability to stay healthy combined with the steep climb he faces up the linebacker depth chart could impact his roster status in 2021. 

    The Steelers are set at the top with T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, Alex Highsmith, Vince Williams and Robert Spillane.

    The presence of those five players makes it hard for any linebacker to earn more snaps compared to previous seasons. 

    Gilbert's lack of time on the field could lead the coaching staff to put more trust in 2021 draft picks Quincy Roche, Isaiahh Loudermilk and Buddy Johnson to fill out the back end of the team's defensive depth chart. 


    Statistics obtained from Pro Football Reference.