For seven months, all we had was speculation to go on when it came to the way the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers will look on the field in black and gold. Now, we have some real football to break down.
So after the tape has been evaluated and grades have been assigned, how do the 90 current Steelers shake out in terms of a 53-man roster projection. We’ve updated our list once again to reflect what we saw on the field Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Quarterback (3): Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
Cut: Tanner Morgan
You can keep writing these three in ink, and despite a solid game by Rudolph and a not-so-great one by Trubisky, the order won’t change, either.
Running back (3): Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland
Practice squad: Darius Hagans. Cuts: Greg Bell, Xazavian Valladay
Anthony McFarland has gone from a guy that might not make the team, to a guy that not only will make the team, but seems likely to have a role in the offense, with his outstanding training camp carrying over into stellar performance in Friday night’s preseason opener.
Darius Hagans had a solid night of pass protection, which is an area he’s struggled in at times during camp. That’s enough for me to give him the nod as the No. 4 back on the practice squad right now.
Wide receiver (5): Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson II, Calvin Austin III, Gunner Olszewski.
Practice squad: Miles Boykin, Cody White, Dez Fitzpatrick. Cuts: Hakeem Butler, Jordan Byrd, Dan Chisena.
Gunner Olszewski got the most snaps of any player at wide receiver, with 31 offensive snaps, and he looked fairly god in doing so. The only other player that did better was Calvin Austin III. I have those two well ahead to be the fourth and fifth wide receivers.
The question is whether the team will keep a sixth. Miles Boykin, Hakeem Butler, Dez Fitzpatrick and Cody White all seem to be in realistic contention there. With just six snaps of offense between them, Dan Chisena and Jordan Byrd don’t seem to have much of a chance.
Tight end (4): Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Connor Heyward, Darnell Washington
Practice squad: Rodney Williams II
Nothing is changing here unless there’s an injury.
Tackle (3): Dan Moore Jr., Chukwuma Okorafor, Broderick Jones
Practice squad: Le’Raven Clark, Dylan Cook, Spencer Anderson
Le’Raven Clark had a better game than he has had practices — which probably is a good sign for his usual sparring partner, Nick Herbig — but it’s still not clear to me if he’s been good enough for the Steelers to keep him as a fourth tackle.
The fact that Dan Moore has been taking reps at right tackle when Broderick Jones gets time at left tackle makes Clark making the team less likely to me.
Dylan Cook has been one of the most impressive third-team guys and should get a practice squad look.
Spencer Anderson has done fine as a third-team right tackle, but he’ll need some versatility to make the team, because it won’t be as a backup tackle.
Guard (4): Isaac Seumalo, James Daniels, Kevin Dotson, Nate Herbig
Cut: Bill Dunkel
I still think they should trade Kevin Dotson, but nothing seems to be moving on that front. Too much talent to cut anyone else. Bill Dunkel has been solid, and probably deserves a spot, but with Anderson’s versatility, they don’t need another guard. He’s a victim to the draft pick getting precedence.
Center (2): Mason Cole, Kendrick Green
Cut: Ryan McCollum
Kendrick Green had a disaster of a first preseason game, but there really isn’t anyone else to slide into the backup center spot right now. Nate Herbig and James Daniels have both played the spot before and could serve as the functional backup. But would the Steelers want that to be their only plan if Mason Cole goes down this season?
There’s also the matter of Green’s weeks-long experiment at fullback. It’s hard to envision the Steelers finding the time and energy to try him in that role if he doesn’t have a chance to make it as a backup, center too. For now, Green remains, though this may be the shakiest of the 53.
If the Steelers don’t keep, the most likely options to then make the team are probably Anderson, or the Steelers deciding that Herbig will suffice as a backup center and a sixth receiver staying onboard instead.
Defensive line (7.5): Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Breiden Fehoko, Armon Watts, Keeanu Benton, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk, DeMarvin Leal
Practice squad: Manny Jones. Cuts: Jonathan Marshall, James Nyamwaya
I keep wanting to cut one player from this group, because eight feels like too many, but I still have no idea who I would cut. Almost all of them have been good, and the ones that haven’t necessarily turned heads are the most experienced ones: guys like Montravius Adams (who is working with the starters at nose tackle) and Armon Watts (who has been the top backup defensive tackle).
Perhaps this is another area the Steelers could look to trade from their tremendous depth. Or maybe they’ll do what I’ve done and make them all fit.
Outside linebacker (4.5): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Markus Golden, Nick Herbig, DeMarvin Leal
Practice squad: Quincy Roche. Cuts: David Perales, Toby Ndukwe
DeMarvin Leal hasn’t played that much outside linebacker, but Isiaahh Loudermilk has done some stand-up work too, giving me enough faith in the depth to leave this group at just four full-time members.
Quincy Roche has pedigree that the other two depth options do not, but I’m not entirely sure he’s been better this camp. There could be an opportunity to look outside the current 90 after cut-down day for a depth edge rusher.
Inside linebacker (4): Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, Kwon Alexander, Mark Robinson
Practice squad: Nick Kwiatkoski. Cuts: Tanner Muse, Forrest Rhyne
Nick Kwiatkoski showed his worth during the preseason opener against the Buccaneers, but do the Steelers really need a fifth inside linebacker with how much the top three are going to play and the promise that Robinson has shown? Nick Herbig is playing all phases of special teams and essentially has a linebacker body type, so they probably won’t need another for teams duties. If one of those extra defensive linemen doesn’t make it, Kwiatkoski could be someone that does.
Safety (5): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, Kenny Robinson
Practice squad: Tre Norwood, Trenton Thompson. Cuts: Jalen Elliott, Miles Killebrew
The battle here is between Tre Norwood and Kenny Robinson, and Norwood’s versatility is a bonus, but Robinson been so very good, while getting a ton of opportunities, that it’s hard to leave him off the list.
Cornerback (5): Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, Chandon Sullivan, Joey Porter Jr., James Pierre
Practice squad: Elijah Riley, Luq Barcoo, Madre Harper. Cuts: Chris Wilcox, Lavert Hill, Nevelle Clark
Elijah Riley has been very good and probably deserves a spot on this roster, I’m just not sure who it will come at the expense of at this point. It could be Chandon Sullivan, who has not necessarily been super impressive. It could also come at the expense of James Pierre, who provides only outside cornerback depth unlike Riley’s more-varied experience. But Riley is probably also a player that would get through to the practice squad, where he was solid depth awaiting injuries in 2022.
The injury to Cory Trice means that James Pierre is the No. 4 outside cornerback, almost by default. The question could be whether they keep another slot behind Chandon Sullivan, with Elijah Riley, Norwood and Duke Dawson all options there. Feels like they should, given the injures, but I haven’t found a better way to put the roster together.
Specialist (3): Chris Boswell, Christian Kuntz, Pressley Harvin III
Cuts: Braden Mann, B.T. Potter, Rex Sunahara
The second teamers ran the specialist operations in Tampa, and while they were fine — they were also the second team. Something will have to change to upset the order of operations.