In just over a month, the Pittsburgh Steelers will hit Chuck Noll Field for another edition of the Steelers Training Camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Ahead of the start of training camp, the 90-man offseason roster appears set in terms of who will be in training camp and competing for jobs. The 53-man roster, on the other hand, has some questions.
It’s our first chance to take a crack at predicting the Steelers’ Week One, 53-man roster, and that’s what I’m doing today.
CRIME – 24
Quarterbacks (3) – Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
Analysis: No real surprise here. After the re-signing of Mason Rudolph in mid-May, the QB3 role has solidified in Pittsburgh. Last year, prior to training camp, this order was a mess with Trubisky and Rudolph projected as 1-2 and Pickett at 3. That’s not the case now. This is Pickett’s job, Pickett’s team. Trubisky and Rudolph provide tremendous depth with great experience overall.
Running Backs (3) – Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Alfonzo Graham
Analysis: Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are a very solid 1-2 punch for the Steelers in the backfield, with Harris expected to handle much of the workload again with Warren mixed in. RB3 is a big question mark overall with names like Anthony McFarland, Jason Huntley, Darius Hagans and Alfonzo Graham expected to struggle in training camp. I’m giving Graham the edge here. He has really impressed the Steelers coaching staff early and brings home run speed to the backfield. We’ll see how he handles special teams assignments, but he’s a very intriguing No. 3 right now.
Back (1) – Monte Pottebaum
Analysis: Giving ‘Monte The Mullet’ some love here by putting him on the 53-man roster. He’s going to make a name for himself on special teams in training camp and on special teams, and should really turn heads as a traditional fullback because of his blocking abilities. He might also be able to handle some short tasks. Definitely a guy to watch in training camp and the preseason.
Tight ends (4) – Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Zach Gentry, Connor Heyward
Analysis: Keeping four tight ends might be a bit of a stretch, but it was tough to potentially try to cut Zach Gentry after keeping Pottebaum, so I’ll cut elsewhere. Pat Freiermuth will be the primary pass catcher, someone the Steelers will move around a bunch and look for mismatches. Hopefully they do the same with Connor Heyward in Year 2. Keeping Washington and Gentry feels a bit redundant as in-line blockers, but having that depth and experience in Gentry will be key behind Washington as he continues to develop.
Wide Receivers (5) – Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin
Analysis: Pretty straightforward here for me. The top four is pretty much set with Johnson, Pickens, Robinson and Austin, assuming everyone is healthy through training camp and the preseason. It’s a strong top four on paper. After this there are some questions. Sticking around because of special teams ability, Boykin is a solid, big-bodied receiver for depth behind Pickens and Robinson, beating out the likes of Gunner Olszewski, Dez Fitzpatrick, Cody White and Hakeem Butler for the final spot. The competition for the practice squad should be a tough battle at the position.
Offensive Tackles (3) – Broderick Jones, Dan Moore Jr., Chukwuma Okorafor
Analysis: Sorry, I just can’t figure out having Le’Raven Clark on the 53 man roster for the Steelers. After selecting Jones in the first round, this seems pretty straightforward for the Steelers at the tackle position, especially if Jones wins the starting job opposite Okorafor. That would push Moore into a swing tackle role, which would strengthen the tackle position overall.
Offensive Guards (4) – Isaac Seumalo, James Daniels, Nate Herbig, Kevin Dotson
Analysis: Ideally, the Steelers will flip Dotson via trade for a mid-round draft pick in 2024, giving the front office more firepower in next year’s draft. But I’m not projecting it here, in large part because I think Nate Herbig will be the backup center as well as guard, so keeping another depth guard in Dotson is paramount. He has plenty of experience, knows the system and can play left and right guard in a pinch. He may not be happy on the bench in general, but it is great depth to have in the trenches.
Centers (1) – Mason Cole
Analysis: As I mentioned above, I think Herbig ends up being the backup center going into the season, and I think rookie seventh-round pick Spencer Anderson is on the practice squad early in the year. Herbig’s work isn’t all that comforting in the center, but Pat Meyer seems to believe it. Cole was a warrior last season and played through a lot of injuries, but having him as the lone true center on the roster is a bit of a concern heading into the 2023 season.
DEFENSE – 26
Defensive Ends (3) – Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, DeMarvin Leal
Analysis: I have to say: I’m not entirely comfortable with only having three defensive ends on the roster, especially with Cameron Heyward entering his age-34 season and Larry Ogunjobi coming off an injury-riddled season. Plus, DeMarvin Leal is not a true 3-4 defensive end. However, I can’t quite buy into Isaiahh Loudermilk or Manny Jones making the roster at this point. This could be a position worth watching for the Steelers to bring in veteran depth after roster cuts at the end of August.
Nose tackles (3) – Keeanu Benton, Armon Watts, Expand Fehoko
Analysis: Easy to feel pretty good about this group overall, even if the true nose tackle position is waning in importance in the NFL. The Steelers did well in getting Keeanu Benton in the draft and I can definitely see him starting Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. He should be an impact run defender right away. Armon Watts and Breiden Fehoko are solid veteran depth, with Watts potentially sliding out to defensive end in base defense at times. Fehoko could be the fiery presence in the trenches in a limited role.
EDGE Rushers (4) – TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Markus Golden, Nick Herbig
Analysis: After the signing of Markus Golden to bolster the OLB3 role, this group feels cut and dry. TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith are entrenched as the starters, and Golden will rotate into both sides to try and keep the excellent duo fresh. While I’m not crazy about Nick Herbig getting work in the NFL at outside linebacker, this is where he’s going to start in the NFL – for now. He will be a special teams demon for Danny Smith and may even see some defensive snaps.
Inside linebackers (5) – Cole Holcomb, Mark Robinson, Elandon Roberts, Tanner Muse, Nick Kwiatkoski
Analysis: If you don’t feel so good about this group, you’re not alone. Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts are the projected starters, which seems like a slight upgrade over the starting duo the Steelers rolled out last season, though not much. Mark Robinson is exciting depth, but he still has a lot of work to do at the position. Tanner Muse and Nick Kwiatkoski are experienced depths that should shore up special teams after the loss of some key pieces a year ago. That being said, they are not guys you want to see on the field defensively.
Cornerbacks (6) – Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, Joey Porter Jr., Cory Trice Jr., Chandon Sullivan, James Pierre
Analysis: This group underwent significant changes this offseason. Gone are Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon and Arthur Maulet. You are Patrick Peterson, Chandon Sullivan and rookies Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Jr. Porter and Trice are potential future starters for the Steelers, with Porter likely to see the field quickly in 2023. Peterson is the veteran leader who should move all over the place. place in the secondary this season. Sullivan is expected to be the slot corner, although that feels like a downgrade from Maulet a year ago. The sixth cornerback spot will be an interesting battle to watch with James Pierre, Luq Barcoo, Duke Dawson and Madre Harper battling for the spot.
Security (5) – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood
Analysis: Like outside linebacker, the safety position feels pretty cut and dry. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee will be the starters. Keanu Neal will be a sub who will play in the box. Tre Norwood can be the versatile piece who can play deep midfield or in the slot, and Miles Killebrew is the special teams ace. Solid group.
SPECIAL TEAMS – 3
Kicker (1) – Chris Boswell
Analysis: I’d be a fool to suggest that undrafted free agent BT Potter beats out Chris Boswell in training camp, even with Boswell coming off an injury-riddled 2022 season where he really struggled. For now, this remains Boswell’s job, but hopefully Potter shows enough to make the practice squad in case of injury.
Punter (1) – Braden Mann
Analysis: Even with Pressley Harvin III having a better sophomore season after struggling as a rookie, the Steelers need a change at the position. In steps Braden Mann, who was a waiver claim early in the offseason by the Steelers. He is a veteran with experience and consistency, and fits in well with the directional punting that Danny Smith wants.
Long Snapper (1) – Rex Sunahara
Analysis: The Steelers have very clearly not been too happy with Christian Kuntz’s 2022 season. Since December 2022, the team has worked out 7(!) long snappers before finally adding Rex Sunahara to the roster, reuniting with the West Virginia product, who spent some time in 2021 and 2022 with the Steelers. How much of an upgrade he will be over Kuntz remains to be seen, but the Steelers are certainly open to making changes at the position.