Aug. 14, 2019
Predicting the Steelers' 53-man roster: who's in, who's out after week two of the NFL preseason
Two weeks into the preseason, the Steelers' roster appears to be largely set. Part of that is the simple process of the top players distancing themselves from other hopefuls, but more than anything else, it's because there just aren't many reps to go around once the teams end training camp. Going forward, those who have earned their time are the ones who will get practice reps, while others will enter desperation mode, hoping for a few snaps here and there in the final two games to look competent.
Here is where i think the Steelers' 53-man roster stands after preseason week two.
Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges (3)
I've been leading the Devlin Hodges bandwagon since seeing him perform in week one. Now, I'm making it official: Hodges will be QB3. You can't watch him and then tell me, with a straight face, that you don't see shades of both Tony Romo and Drew Brees in his game. He plays fast, has great awareness in the pocket, and his accuracy has been absurdly good through two games. Yes, he was just 2-of-4 in week two, but one of those incompletions was an outright drop by the receiver -- the same issue he had in week one.
I would be shocked to see him get more than a handful of snaps in week three (if any at all), but don't be surprised if he gets the start in week four. Rudolph has already separated himself enough from Dobbs at this point that the QB2 spot is all but a foregone conclusion, so look for the team to try to see what they have in Hodges.
Running Back: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Jr. (3)
Another week and no change. As a fourth-round pick, there is no way they don't keep Snell short of injury or insulting head coach Mike Tomlin's manhood.
Fullback: Roosevelt Nix (1)
The only guys more locked into their roster spots right now are Ben Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Wide Receiver: JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer, Diontae Spencer (6)
I'm sticking with this for now. Eli Rogers closed the gap a little to Switzer, but Switzer is losing value each time he doesn't show up much on offense and Diontae Spencer gets another nice punt return. This week, it was for 42 yards. Switzer is going to need to stand out in some way in week three or this is going to turn bad for him in a hurry.
Tight End: Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry (3)
I'll leave this for one more week. However, if Grimble doesn't do more than drop passes this week, he's getting replaced by Kevin Rader -- simply because Christian Scotland-Williamson has been hurt and not on the field, and Rader has done less damage. Should they both look bad, the third tight end will come from the waiver wire after roster cut-downs. This is, far and away, the worst position group on the entire roster.
Offensive Line: Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney, Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, Fred Johnson (9)
No changes here from last week. The big question mark after week one was Okorafor, who had himself a pretty terrible outing. While not perfect, he showed a lot better in week two, including more advanced techniques like stunt recognition. He's athletic, and seems to be learning and applying fixes for his mistakes, which is all you can ask of a young guy who hasn't seen much playing time at the pro level.
Defensive Line: Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Daniel McCullers, Isaiah Buggs (6)
I'm not changing anything here, despite another decent outing by Henry Mondeaux, simply because he hasn't done enough to warrant removing a seasons vet like McCullers. Big Dan isn't having himself a bad preseason by any measure, either, which isn't leaving much room for any undrafted players to sneak onto the final roster on the defensive line. Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert will err on the side of experience every single day if neither player in a battle has proven to be better beyond doubt.
Outside Linebacker: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, Olasunkanmi Adeyini, Tuzar Skipper (5)
Again, no reason to change anything here. These are the five best outside linebackers on this roster, and it's not really close. The only real question is whether or not the roster spot I am giving to Skipper at this point is going to be more useful used elsewhere. Especially in light of Adeyini's minor surgery this week, having a fifth OLB until Adeyini can come back is going to be crucial.
Inside Linebacker: Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Tyler Matakevich, Ulysees Gilbert III (4)
Matakevich continues to be outstanding where he excelled in college, tackling anything near him. He's still a liability in coverage, but so is Williams, and no one is calling for his head. Gilbert has shown pretty well in coverage, and his abilities as a pass rusher, at least right now, make him appear to be more valuable than Barron. If I was picking the four best ILBs on this roster right now, this is the group I'd go with. This, however, is the one place I can think of where Skipper's roster spot may be of more use in the long term.
Cornerback: Joe Haden, Steve Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Artie Burns, Justin Layne (6)
I'm shifting gears on the defensive backfield a bit this week. Hilton and Sutton have both been used as safeties, so I'm taking their position flexibility as a huge positive this week. That's because there are five cornerbacks who are basically locks right now (Haden, Nelson, Hilton, Sutton and Layne, which reads like the name of a law firm), two of them can play safety as well, and so far Artie Burns has looked like a pro football player again. Because of all that, Burns is back in this week and, to compensate, a change was made at safety.
Also, Layne had a much better game than he did in week one, giving up zero completions and breaking up two passes on 21 snaps.
Safety: Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Marcus Allen (4)
I said last week that my gut feel was the Steelers would keep six corners and four safeties, and I'm now willing to commit to that. Kameron Kelly didn't play in week two, and no one who I had on my 53-man predictions a week ago could less afford missing a game than Kelly. Allen had himself a fine game, which pretty much locked him in. At this point, unless there is a significant injury to Hilton, Sutton or Dangerfield, Kelly is destined to be looking for work soon.
Special Teams: Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Cameron Kanaday (3)
Better the devil you know, so it looks like the Steelers will either ride with Berry or pick another punter up after cut-downs. Ian Berryman shanked his one punt a week after destroying the ball, while Berry continued right along his career arc, averaging about 44.5 yards per punt. At kicker, Matthew wright kicked the team's lone field goal against the Chiefs, but at this point the job is Boswell's unless he completely falls apart in the final two weeks.