Friday, August 29, 2014

Final 53-Man Roster Prediction

The Steelers and Carolina Panthers played a game that mercifully ended the preseason last night. The Steelers now have until 4:00pm on Saturday to cut their roster down to 53 players. As we have seen in the past, this does not mean these are the final 53 players that will open the season on the roster. They have utilized the waiver wire in the last few years to make some changes to their roster and additional changes could be coming this year after the roster deadline. However, for now, we have to keep a relatively narrow view of the roster and just consider the 75 players who are currently on the roster before looking to the waiver wire.

Before I get rolling, I'll throw a bone out to my compatriots in blogging and their roster projections, just so you can get a sense for how fluid the last few spots can be:


QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones

Like it or not, the Steelers are going to keep 3 quarterbacks. The prudent thing to do would be to sign a 3rd quarterback off the waiver wire (Thad Lewis? Tyler Thigpen?) and let Landry Jones fall through waivers to the practice squad. As it stands, the Steelers will likely keep Jones because they want to have 3 rostered QBs.

RB (4): Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Will Johnson

None of the depth RBs in camp made a push to be on the roster and all four of these guys clearly belong on the NFL squad. There's not much to say or discuss here. These guys are all making the team.

WR (5): Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Bryant left the Panthers game early with an injury that was reported to be a separated shoulder. This makes Bryant a candidate for the IR-Designated For Return list. However, in order to be placed on the IR-DFR list, he has to first be placed on the 53-man roster then moved to IR-DFR status so he will occupy a spot on the 53 initially but once his status is changed, a spot will open up for another player to be added. Heyward-Bey showed enough in the last two preseason games that he deserves a spot on this team.

TE (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer

Miller and Spaeth have the top two spots locked down. Behind them, no one has distinguished themselves as worthy of a roster spot. I put Palmer on the roster as the 3rd tight end because of his ability to play special teams and his ability as a blocker. The Steelers may keep an eye on the waiver wire for a 3rd tight end as Palmer's spot certainly isn't locked in stone.

Offensive Line (9)
OT: Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams
OG: Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Guy Whimper
C: Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace, Wesley Johnson

I grouped the offensive line together because guys like Whimper, Wallace and Johnson are capable of playing multiple positions along the line and I didn't want to get bogged down in semantics. This should be what basically amounts to a "redshirt" year for 5th-round pick Wesley Johnson. Adams, Whimper and Wallace have shown enough to have the top 3 reserve spots locked down. This is a place where the Steelers could go hunting on the waiver wire if there is a lineman available that could replace Whimper or Johnson.


DE (5): Cam Heyward, Brett Keisel, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Thomas, Josh Mauro

With the signing of Brett Keisel, the defensive line is pretty much set. Heyward didn't play last night but the Steelers did show one interesting look in nickel with 4 down linemen (Keisel-McLendon-Thomas-Tuitt) and no outside linebackers (it was a bit of a 4-2-5 as opposed to their normal 2-4-5). At this point the top four are set in stone without question. I decided to keep Josh Mauro as my 5th defensive end because of the upside he showed in the preseason. He displayed an ability to bull rush and collapse the pocket as well as get pressure and get sacks. While he is still an unfinished product, I wanted some security in the defensive line rotation in case Cam Thomas is forced to play nose tackle.

NT (2): Steve McLendon, Daniel McCullers

There was some debate earlier in the preseason as to whether or not 6th round pick Daniel McCullers would surpass Hebron Fangupo for the 2nd nose tackle position. That discussion was quashed when Fangupo was released in the first round of cuts. For better or worse, McLendon and McCullers will be the two nose tackles with Cam Thomas also seeing some time in the rotation.

OLB (4): Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Howard Jones

The last two roster spots were the hardest for me to decide. One of those decisions was the 9th linebacker to keep on the roster. It came down to Chris Carter vs Howard Jones vs Jordan Zumwalt. One of the things that stood out the most from the Carolina game was Chris Carter's inability to make a statement in the second half against Carolina's backups. I just haven't seen enough out of Carter to put him on the squad and Jones can be an equivalent contributor on special teams to Carter. Zumwalt's injuries have kept him out of every game except the opener against the Giants when he played well. Ultimately I decided on HoJo because of the splash plays he made during the preseason but the Steelers could look at the waiver wire (possibly a guy like Victor Butler who the Saints cut last week and the Steelers had interest in as a free agent a few years ago).

ILB (5): Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Terrence Garvin

In my eyes, these 5 guys have their roster spots locked down. Sean Spence is working through a knee sprain that should not be significant. Williams and Garvin have shown enough both in games and on special teams to secure their spots on the roster.

CB (5): Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Brice McCain

Brice McCain suffered a groin injury against the Panthers, but none of the other corners on the roster showed enough to surpass McCain on the depth chart. Ultimately, I think the Steelers keep McCain over 5th round pick Shaq Richardson (who has been injured for most of camp). Richardson could be a candidate for the IR-Designated for Return distinction, but ultimately since he hasn't put anything on tape I think the Steelers will stick with the veteran McCain and try to slide Richardson down to the practice squad.

SS (2): Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas
FS (3): Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, Will Allen

The last roster decision I made was Howard Jones at OLB, but the secondary was second-to-last. Robert Golden showed enough in the preseason to secure his roster spot. Given Brice McCain's injury (which will probably make him inactive for the first few weeks) I decided to keep Will Allen for an extra body in the secondary and on special teams. In deciding between Allen and Shaq Richardson, I considered who could actually play in Week 1 if need be, which gave the edge to Allen. Richardson's injury has held him out of most of camp and I didn't want to keep 2 defensive backs that would automatically have to be inactive in the first week because of injuries.

Specialists (3)
K: Shaun Suisham
P: Brad Wing
LS: Greg Warren

Suisham, despite his struggles, signed a 5-year deal with the Steelers so his roster spot is secure. For now, Brad Wing is the only punter that we have on the roster so he makes it by default. However, as we have seen in the past, the punter spot is far from secure and the Steelers may opt to sign a punter off the waiver wire. Warren, reportedly, will practice this week and will be ready to go for the Cleveland game. This should put to rest any discussion of keeping two long snappers on the roster.

Week 1 inactives: Jones (QB), Bryant (WR), Johnson (OL), Mauro (DE), McCullers (NT), H. Jones (OLB), Spence (ILB) McCain (CB)

The Steelers can only dress 45 players each week which means that 8 players will be inactive.  Spence, McCain and Bryant will be working their way through injury (though Bryant may be placed on the IR-DFR list, which would open up another roster spot). If Bryant is moved to IR-DFR, I would slide the player the Steelers add to fill Bryant's spot to the Week 1 inactives list.

Practice Squad (10):
QB: Brendon Kay
WR: Justin Brown, Derek Moye
TE: Rob Blanchflower
OL: Chris Hubbard
DE: Nick Williams
LB: Jordan Zumwalt
CB: Shaq Richardson, Isaiah Green
S: Jordan Dangerfield

If these 10 make it through waivers, these are the 10 I would add to the practice squad. If Martavis Bryant gets placed on the IR-DFR list, Justin Brown would be elevated to the active roster and TE Eric Waters (who was one of the Steelers first cuts) would be signed back to the practice squad. Brendon Kay showed enough during the last preseason game to warrant a spot on the practice squad. However, if the Steelers opt to sign some players off of waivers then guys from the 53-man roster could fall down to the practice squad. I did put two draft picks that were injured for most of the preseason (Zumwalt and Richardson) on the practice squad. If the Steelers fear that either might not make it through waivers, they may opt to keep one of them on the active roster.

Positions to Watch on Waivers

Quarterback - Landry Jones was able to get the Steelers in and out of a huddle, but that was about it. The Steelers didn't pick up many first downs and never really threatened to drive the ball across midfield. The Steelers could look for a capable #3 QB on the waiver wire and move Landry down to the practice squad.

Tight End - As I mentioned, Michael Palmer's spot as the #3 TE is far from secure. He is a decent blocker and plays well on special teams but doesn't bring much offensive upside. If there is a tight end out there on the waiver wire that can block and provides some offensive upside, the Steelers may cut the veteran Palmer.

Wide Receiver -  I didn't expect to be writing about waiver-wire receivers, but with Martavis Bryant's injury, the Steelers will need to add a 5th receiver to the roster if Bryant is placed on the IR-DFR list. That receiver could be Justin Brown that they cut and then sign after Bryant's status is changed or another receiver that is cut by another team.

Offensive Line - The last two spots are the biggest question marks. The Steelers will definitely keep 8 linemen and there is some debate over whether or not veteran Guy Whimper or rookie Wesley Johnson should be the 8th guy. My projection has them keeping both players but if there is another veteran lineman placed on waivers who is better than Whimper, the Steelers could make a parallel move here.

Nose Tackle - The weakest spot in the starting lineup is at nose tackle where Steve McLendon has yet to show he can cut it as a starting NFL nose tackle. This is a diminishing market and there isn't a lot of value out there so I doubt the Steelers will find one on the waiver wire but it's still something to keep an eye on.

Outside Linebacker - As of right now, the Steelers have 3 capable outside linebackers. Chris Carter hasn't shown anything, Howard Jones is a project and Jordan Zumwalt has been continually hurt. My roster has the Steelers cutting Carter and keeping Jones but they could look for a veteran that can actually rush the passer for their 4th OLB spot on waivers.

Cornerback - Given Brice McCain's groin injury and Shaq Richardson's knee injury, the Steelers are a bit thin at corner heading into Week 1. This was one of the reasons why Will Allen made my 53-man roster. The Steelers could sign a corner off waivers to take McCain's spot on the roster or add more depth to the position as the 4th/5th corner behind the top three.

Punter - Brad Wing has not looked very good, despite what Mike Tomlin says. This might be the most obvious position for the Steelers to address on the waiver wire. There is precedent for doing so as the Steelers picked up Zoltan Mesko on waivers last year and made him their opening day punter.

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