Since the Steelers have to cut their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday, I’m not going to bore you with a recap or analysis from Thursday night’s 17-14 win at Carolina to close out the preseason.
I’ll analyze what happened in the game while also telling you who I think will be on the 53-man roster and why.
With that, let’s get into it.
Quarterbacks (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs: Dobbs played his best game of the preseason against the Panthers, going 16-23 for 212 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for the game-winning score. He won’t push Landry Jones for the No. 2 spot this season, but he showed enough progress in this process to show that he can next year.
Running backs (4): Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Terrell Watson, Roosevelt Nix: Watson consistently outplayed Knile Davis and Fitzgerald Toussaint in this preseason to the point where somebody will sign him to their 53-man roster if the Steelers try to put him on the practice squad. He’s just better than the other guys. The only question is if the Steelers are comfortable with two young runners behind Bell.
Wide receivers (6): Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Shuster, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates. The Steelers expect to hear from the league by Saturday’s 4 p.m. cutdown date whether Bryant will be given the OK for this season and expect that he will. I know Justin Hunter made a bit of a statement in the final preseason game, but it was too little, too late for my liking. Plus, he does nothing on special teams. And if Davis is gone, Coates is your kick returner. He and Heyward-Bey are two of the better gunners on the team on punt coverage, as well. Hunter does none of the things you need a No. 5 or 6 WR to do to have value. A trade possibility? Perhaps they can get a seventh-round pick for him. I’ve liked Marcus Tucker all along and he and Demarcus Ayers can head to the practice squad.
Tight ends (4): Jesse James, Vance McDonald, David Johnson, Xavier Grimble: We saw what a little competition can do to a position. The tight ends had their best game of the preseason against the Panthers. Because McDonald could take a week or three to get up to speed in the offense, the Steelers will keep all four. All four can contribute on special teams, anyway.
Offensive line (9): Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, B.J. Finney, Chris Hubbard, Matt Feiler, Jerald Hawkins. Finney is the top backup inside and Hubbard can play all five spots in a pinch. Feiler and Hawkins makes it over Brian Mihalik.
Defensive end (5): Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu, L.T. Walton: Alualu and Walton both can play inside or out and James Harrison could play end in a pinch. Lavon Hooks would be the next guy in line. And look for the Steelers to make a last-ditch effort to get Tuitt extended before the weekend is over.
Linebackers (9): Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, James Harrison, Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats outside; Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort inside: This is a pretty simple cut with Farrington Huguenin sticking around on the practice squad along with Keith Kelsey. Veteran Steven Johnson is a casualty.
Cornerbacks (6): Artie Burns, Joe Haden, Ross Cockrell, Coty Sensabaugh, Mike Hilton, William Gay: Cam Sutton suffered another hamstring injury Thursday night. He’ll likely head to IR for his rookie season. That saves Cockrell or Sensabaugh a spot on the roster. Haden should be ready to start Week 1 since that game is against Cleveland, his former team. Hilton will be the slot corner with Gay playing inside as well when the team goes dime while also serving as the fourth safety.
Safety (4): Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield: Jordan Dangerfield’s ankle injury Thursday night was serious enough that he went straight to the locker room. That’s not good, especially at a position that was already thin. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers look for some help here. But Gay and Hilton also can play some safety. This also assumes the team feels Mitchell is ready to go for the opener.
Specialists (3): Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Colin Holba: The Holba vs. Kameron Canaday battle was a lot closer than many thought it would be. Holba is a little more accurate, while Canaday snaps with a little more velocity. Both can do the job at the NFL level. Could a trade be a possibility?