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Saunders: Final Steelers 53-Man Roster Prediction

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The preseason is over, and while the Steelers have until 4 p.m. on Tuesday to get down to the 53-man roster limit, the team already began the process with nine cuts on Saturday.

That leaves 17 cuts to make in the next 48 hours or so. Which players will make the team and who will be on the unemployment line? Let’s take a look, along with changes from our last set of predictions.

Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins
Changes: None

Haskins did not have a strong preseason finale in Carolina, and with the facts that most teams don’t dress their third quarterback and players can be quickly elevated from the practice squad, it’s possible that the Steelers could try to sneak him through waivers and let him develop off the 53-man roster. But I think Haskins’ status as a former first-round pick makes him too desirable to pass up for some teams, so the Steelers will keep him behind Rudolph and Roethlisberger on the active roster.

Josh Dobbs could end up on the injured reserve list, depending on the severity of the turf toe injury he suffered late on Friday night.

Running back (4): Najee Harris, Anthony McFarland Jr., Kalen Ballage, Benny Snell Jr.
Changes: Snell in

I had the team keeping just three running backs the last time around, but some changes elsewhere have made keeping four a bit more practical this time around. Snell won’t blow anyone away, but he’s a reliable backup and probably worth keeping, if the Steelers can make it work

Wide receiver (5): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud.
Changes: None

Some folks’ camp darling Mathew Sexton is already out, along with 2020 practice squadder Anthony Johnson, and I believe that the rest of the training camp group of receivers will follow, as no one did enough to unseat McCloud from the No. 5 receiver spot.

Fullback (1): Derek Watt
Changes: None

Haven’t seen any indication he’s going to be used much more this year, but his contract probably dictates that he stays.

Tight end (3): Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
Changes:None

This is one of the tightest battles on the team right now, between Gentry and Kevin Rader for the third tight end spot. Gentry has made significant improvements in his third training camp, and despite Rader’s blocking and special teams ability, he’s never going to be 6-foot-8. The Steelers might be able to hope that the under-the-radar (see what I did there) Pine-Richland alum makes it through waivers to the practice squad, where he’s spent most of the last two seasons.

Tackle (4): Zach Banner, Chukwuma Okorafor, Dan Moore Jr., Joe Haeg
Changes: None

I don’t get the sense that the Steelers have been particularly thrilled with Okorafor’s play through training camp, and Banner missed the preseason finale as the Steelers are apparently still taking it easy on his surgically repaired knee, so it’s not totally out of the question that the team could make an outside addition here. But if it’s four from the current roster, there’s no question that it’s these four.

Guard (3): Trai Turner, Kevin Dotson, Rashaad Coward
Changes: None

B.J. Finney is a tough cut, but Coward has just been better, and I don’t see the team keeping four guards.

Center (2): Kendrick Green, J.C. Hassenauer
Changes: None

Hassenauer has been the only player other than Green to take first- or second-team center reps, so this seems pretty well locked up.

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Specialists (3): Kameron Canaday, Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III
Changes: None

I have no idea what’s going on with Canaday, who missed Friday’s game with an illness. If he’s not physically ready to go, perhaps he’ll end up on the PUP list or IR. I can’t say I’m a long snapping specialist, but you’d think if Christian Kuntz was an upgrade, it wouldn’t have taken until his third training camp to figure that out.

At punter, I can see the team working a trade for Jordan Berry, who has been very, very good throughout camp and really doesn’t deserve to lose his job. The team obviously liked Harvin enough to draft him, though, and when push comes to shove, I think that gets him the spot.

Defensive tackle (3): Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis
Changes: None

Davis has been working on special teams, as well, which to me, puts his spot in ink.

Defensive end (3): Cam Heyward, Isaiah Buggs, Isaiahh Loudermilk; Stephon Tuitt to PUP list
Changes: Tuitt out

Stephon Tuitt has yet to work in a team practice setting and hasn’t worked individually hardly at all in the last week of training camp. It seems clear that there’s something more going on here than him dealing with the death of his brother this offseason, and whether that’s an injury, as has been reported, or something else, I don’t know, but at this point, it’s hard to see him being ready for the start of the season.

That’s the only change here, as I’m going with six linemen on the 53-man roster instead of seven. Henry Mondeaux is still a tough cut.

Outside linebacker (4): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Melvin Ingram, Cassius Marsh
Changes: None

Jamir Jones has certainly passed sixth-round pick Quincy Roche as the next outside linebacker, but I didn’t see enough from him on special teams to put him ahead of Marsh. There’s a possibility the team could keep five outside backers, but I think Jones and Roche should both get through to the practice squad.

Inside linebacker (5): Devin Bush, Joe Schobert, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Buddy Johnson
Changes: None

Perhaps the part of my prediction that I feel the least good about. Really, none of the players after Bush and Schobert have showed a whole lot this preseason and any of them could be justifiably cut. I went with the best run-stuffer in Spillane, the best cover man in Allen and the player with the most potential in Johnson, leaving Ulysees Gilbert III out.

But Allen was injured on Friday, the extent of which is unknown, and that could throw a wrench in things.

Cornerback (6): Joe Haden, Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne, Arthur Maulet, outside addition
Changes Antoine Brooks Jr. out

Brooks ended up being waived with his hamstring injury, which leaves just five at the cornerback position for me from the current roster. I’m expecting the Steelers will make an addition from outside the roster, as their depth at slot corner was already basically nil before losing Brooks. Maulet has been hurt as well, meaning this group could go into the season with just one realistic slot corner option for Week 1 if things don’t change. I don’t see that happening. This needs shored up and Kevin Colbert will make a move.

If you put a gun to my head and made me keep an extra defensive back, it would be third-team free safety Donovan Stiner, who has showed a good nose for the ball and looks at home on special teams. That would semi-permanently move Tre Norwood to the slot, where he was just OK in his first real work on Friday.

Safety (4): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood
Changes: None

No changes here, as Stiner is the only other player left on the roster that could challenge for a spot.

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