The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped up the spring portion of their 2023 offseason, and the players and coaches are on their way — after Mike Tomlin’s rousing speech — to a few weeks off before rejoining for training camp at St. Vincent College on July 26.
Let’s take the opportunity to use what we’ve learned after three weeks of OTAs and one week of minicamp to compile out first Steelers 53-man roster projection of the 2023 offseason.
Quarterback (3): Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
There is basically no drama about the players, the number of players or the order of the players here. Rookie free agent Tanner Morgan was the forgotten man throughout the spring, with the Steelers’ fourth-stringer barely repping for the second straight year.
Short of an injury, this is the quarterback room, with the new third quarterback rule making the team keeping three a sure thing.
Running back (3): Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland
The first two here are in stone. When I asked running backs coach Eddie Faulkner about the potential options for the third spot, McFarland’s name was the only one he mentioned. So that seems pretty likely to happen.
Rookie free agent Alfonzo Graham has turned some heads, and would be the fourth if there was another here, but Faulkner hinted as some pass protection struggles that might hold him back. He would be an excellent option for the practice squad.
I haven’t seen enough from practice squad alum Jason Huntley or rookie free agent Darius Hagans to think they have a real shot at the 53.
Fullback Monte Pottebaum will have a chance to earn a spot in Latrobe, but the non-contact nature of spring practices essentially neuter his potential effectiveness at OTAs and minicamp.
Wide receiver (5): Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Allen Robinson II, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin.
You can consider the first four locks, with one or two slots added on to that group. Anthony Miller seemed like the player that had the best chance to crack this list, but his continued injury issues likely prevented him from getting that chance.
Most of Miles Boykin and Gunner Olszewki’s roles are on special teams, and with kickoffs being further de-emphasized, the Steelers may decide that Calvin Austin III and one additional third-phaser is enough. Austin is a return guy. Boykin is a gunner. Gunner is kinda both, but not as good at either as either of the other two. He’s also somewhat expensive for his role, cap wise.
Of the other cuts, Hakeem Butler is certainly interesting, and he could challenge Boykin for his gunner role, while providing higher upside as a receiving option. Dez Fitzpatrick has also been a spring standout. Either of them would be welcome additions to the practice squad, as would rookie free agent do-it-all Jordan Byrd, who seems to be Austin’s understudy.
Tight end (4): Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Connor Heyward, Darnell Washington
Outside of quarterback, this feels like the position with the least drama. All four of those players are making the team. It’s hard to see them keeping a fifth tight end, though practice squad alum Rodney Williams did have a very nice spring. The Steelers should hope he makes it to the squad again in 2023.
Tackle (3): Dan Moore Jr., Chukwuma Okorafor, Broderick Jones
Dan Moore Jr. had a very nice spring at left tackle, and appears to be making things difficult for first-round pick Broderick Jones if he wants to take hold of the starting job any time soon.
Either way, the Steelers are in line to have their best swing tackle in years, and a fourth seems pretty superfluous. Rookie seventh-rounder Spencer Anderson can play guard and tackle, but I’d try to get him to the practice squad as the fourth tackle. There’s too much depth at guard to see him playing there, anyway.
It seems like the role they envisioned for Le’Raven Clark is basically gone after drafting Jones, so maybe he’ll be an early cut to let him find a greener pasture.
Guard (4): Isaac Seumalo, James Daniels, Kevin Dotson, Nate Herbig
Four guards feels like one too many, but here’s too much talent here to cut any of it. Honestly, Kevin Dotson should probably get some trade interest, because there’s no chance he’s starting unless there’s an injury in Pittsburgh.
Center (2): Mason Cole, Kendrick Green
This is the last chance for Kendrick Green, who has moved back to center after playing guard in 2022 and calling his time at center in 2021 a failed experiment. That’s hardly a gushing review, but there’s no one else that feels ready to take this spot from him just yet.
Maybe Anderson will get a longer look at center in training camp and can get a chance to make the team here.
There’s also a chance James Daniels serves as the backup center, and the team doesn’t carry another one on the 53-man roster.
Defensive line (7): Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Breiden Fehoko, Armon Watts, DeMarvin Leal, Keeanu Benton, Montravius Adams
You can consider the two veteran starters and two recent high draft picks locks. I haven’t seen anything from Breiden Fehoko or Armon Watts so far to make me think they aren’t a part of the team’s plans going forward.
The tough cut here is the choice between Montravius Adams and Isaiahh Loudermilk. Adams brings a little bit more versatility with the ability to play on the nose and I think Loudermilk is a little bit more likely to make it through to the practice squad, so that’s why I went with Adams. There is also a chance they keep eight linemen here. It’s a solid group.
Outside linebacker (5): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Markus Golden, Nick Herbig, Quincy Roche
Instead of that extra defensive linemen, I went with an extra edge rusher. Markus Golden is a veteran backup that is probably not going to be asked to play a lot of special teams, so I’m bringing Quincy Roche along because he has some untapped pass-rush potential to go along with the ability to be a third-phase player. The depth here is better than at inside linebacker, where special teamers often also come from on defense.
Inside linebacker (4): Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, Mark Robinson, Tanner Muse
Nick Kwiatkoski could absolutely unseat Muse for that last spot, but Muse is the only thing close to a coverage specialist the Steelers have at linebacker right now, so I went with the more varied skillset. Either way, that fourth ILB is basically exclusively a special teamer.
This is the position where I think an external addition could do the most good, so that battle might end up being moot by training camp. On the other hand, Robinson was not a full-time special teamer last year, so an addition could put him on the roster bubble, too.
Safety (4): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, Elijah Riley
It sure seems like the Steelers are going to spend a lot more time with three safeties on the field going forward, so I kept an extra one that can play a more versatile defensive role and cut loose special teams-only Miles Killebrew.
Elijah Riley has come on strong since he got some work in last season, and honestly, might be ahead of 2021 seventh-round pick Tre Norwood in the pecking order here, right now. Norwood is a smart player, but hasn’t made a lot of impact plays in his time in Pittsburgh and has been prone to the occasional gaffe. He hasn’t been playing as much slot corner as he once had, and that’s not a positive trend in my eyes.
Cornerback (6): Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, Chandon Sullivan, Joey Porter Jr., Cory Trice, James Pierre
I can’t see any of the first five on this list missing the cut. Sullivan is the only full-time slot cornerback they have, and with the aging Patrick Peterson the other option, they’re not going to go into the season without a backup for him.
The battle here is likely between James Pierre and Norwood on whether the 10th defensive back is an outside corner or more versatile piece.
The Steelers honestly have more depth outside, with Peterson followed by Levi Wallace, Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice. But Pierre is a more-solid special teamer, and without Killebrew, a bigger body for teams becomes a priority.
Specialist (3): Chris Boswell, Christian Kuntz, Braden Mann
Chris Boswell has only token competition here, despite an underwhelming 2022, but Pressley Harvin III has some real competition in the form of former New York Jets punter Braden Mann.
Mann averaged 45.4 yards per punt over three years with the Jets. Harvin has averaged 43.6 in two years with the Steelers, though he brought that number up from 42.6 to 44.5.
His average has been hurt by his lack of consistency, with a few very bad punts dragging down the average. If he can clean those up, he can survive this challenge, but right now, I’d put Mann ahead.