Following is an early look at what the Steelers’ 53-man roster could look like come September.
The quarterback room will likely include the three QBs who started games last year: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges. Some observers believe that Paxton Lynch or J.T. Barrett will challenge Hodges for the third-string QB job, but this seems unlikely. During a recent interview with Pro Football Talk, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said, “We’re comfortable with Mason Rudolph as a backup and Devlin Hodges in the mix. Between the two of them, they were 8-6 last year.”
Colbert did go on to mention Lynch, saying, “We’re very comfortable knowing if need be Mason and Devlin and/or Devlin and Mason and even Paxton Lynch [can fill in capably].” But to be sure, the Steelers want to find out more about what they have—or don’t have—with Rudolph, as they consider who might replace Roethlisberger in the next year or three.
Running Back (5)
Barring injury, James Connor will be the Steelers’ feature back, with Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell, Jr. playing support roles.
Rookie fourth-round draft choice Anthony McFarland, Jr. has intriguing potential and could quickly establish himself as Connor’s backup. Some have fretted that McFarland could be another Dri Archer, drafted by the Steelers in the third round in 2014 after he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds at the combine. Both McFarland and Archer are 5-8, but that’s where the comparisons end. Archer played at just 173 pounds, and would go to the ground in a stiff wind. On the other hand, McFarland’s build is something closer to that of Barry Foster, who averaged 4.3 yards per carry over the course of a five-year career with the Steelers in the early nineties.
Free agent acquisition Derek Watt will be the team’s one and only fullback, having signed a three-year contract during the offseason.
Wide Receiver (6)
Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington are locks to make the team, as is second-round draft pick Chase Claypool, who ought to see lot of time on special teams as a rookie. Deon Cain is the best bet to become the fifth receiver, with Ryan Switzer the last man in, unless a first-year player like Saeed Blacknall or second-year man Quadree Henderson takes a big step forward.
Tight End (3)
Historically, the Steelers keep three tight ends of their roster, and seem likely to do so again this year, in part because Vance McDonald and free agent acquisition Eric Ebron haven’t exactly been durable.
Last year’s fifth-round draft pick Zach Gentry figures to be the third tight end, while Christian Scotland-Williamson, originally signed by the Steelers via the NFL’s International Pathway program, continues to chase his NFL dream. Scotland-Williamson spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons on the team’s practice squad dream while trying to make the transition from rugby player to tight end. More notably, he recently opened up about his parents’ battle with COVID-19—and the horror of watching them struggle from afar.
Offensive Line (9)
Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner are all expected to handle key roles, with veteran free agent Stefen Wisniewski signing a two-year contract to play guard and/or center. Fourth-round draft pick Kevin Dotson figures to make the roster as well, while last year’s seventh-round draft pick Derwin Gray has the best chance of becoming the ninth offensive lineman, having spent last season on the practice squad.
Defensive Line (6)
Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu are fixtures, while Chris Wormley figures to make the team after being acquired in a trade with the Ravens. After that things are up in the air. Isaiah Buggs, drafted with a sixth-round pick last year, should stick as a fifth defensive lineman, but one can never discount Daniel McCullers, who has been with the Steelers since 2014, despite only 36 total tackles and 2.5 sacks over the course of his career.
Meanwhile, Henry Mondeaux could make the jump from the practice squad to the active roster, though there’s certainly room for another dark horse candidate to emerge, which explains the addition of rookie undrafted free agents Josiah Coatney (Mississippi) and Calvin Taylor (Kentucky). Seventh-round pick Carlos Davis looks like a project, and seems destined for the 2020 practice squad.
Outside Linebacker (4)
T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree are the starters, and third-round pick Alex Highsmith will be groomed as a potential replacement for Dupree in the event that Bud leaves in free agency after the 2020 season. That leaves one spot for either Ola Adeniyi or Tuzar Skipper, or a recently signed free agent.
Inside Linebacker (4)
Devin Bush and Vince Williams will take up two spots, but there is plenty of opportunity for newcomers to make an impression. As of today, Ulysees Gilbert III and Robert Spillane are the most likely candidates to make the team, but it seems unlikely that both will earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Unless a recently-added free agent impresses, the Steelers are likely to sign a veteran free agent or make a pickup after rosters are cut down.
Joe Haden and Steven Nelson are the established starters, while Mike Hilton will return to fill the role of slot corner for at least one more year. Cameron Sutton and Justin Layne are well-positioned to serve as the fourth and fifth CBs.
Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds are the starters, and backup Jordan Dangerfield recently signed a new one-year contract, having distinguished himself on special teams. Rookie sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks, Jr. and Marcus Allen are the leading contenders to serve as backups, but free agent additions will also have the opportunity to impress.
Chris Boswell will be the placekicker after a bounce-back year in 2019, but punter Jordan Berry will have to fend off a challenge from rookie free agent Corliss Waitman. Kameron Canaday returns as the team’s long snapper, having signed a new two-year contract.
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