The 2021 NFL Draft provided the Pittsburgh Steelers plenty of immediate contributors, as well as players who can provide quality depth. After letting all of the new acquisitions marinate, both from the draft and free agency, I think there is a clear picture of who the Steelers will head into Week 1 with on the 53-man roster.
Quarterbacks (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs
Roethlisberger and Rudolph are clearly locked in to be one and two. The third quarterback spot is going to be the interesting part. The Steelers decided to bring back Dobbs this offseason on a one-year deal but they also signed former first round draft pick Dwayne Haskins to a one-year deal. Dobbs is someone who was constantly with Roethlisberger on the sidelines last season looking over what was going on during the game. This is something that cannot be ignored. With new offensive coordinator Matt Canada going to be focused on the bigger picture, Dobbs could sort of be that player coach Roethlisberger puts his trust in to see what he may not be. The only way Haskins overthrows Dobbs for the third spot will be determined on how he practices and plays during the preseason. If he proves he could be a potential future contender at the quarterback position, then Haskins will make the team. I don’t see a scenario where the Steelers head into the year with four players at the position, so you can throw that idea out the window.
Running Backs (4): Najee Harris, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Kalen Ballage
Pretty clear picture here with Harris coming in to take the lead role and Snell and McFarland to come in as a spell/change of pace. Snell has proven to be serviceable as a backup and McFarland will get another year after a lackluster rookie performance, plus he is the fastest back of the group. The real battle will come to Ballage and Jaylen Samuels, which both have played special teams so there is no advantage there. Neither would see significant playing time this season so I give the nod to Ballage since the Steelers have continuously brought in running backs since Samuels has arrived.
Fullback (1): Derek Watt
Not a lot to explain here, great special teams player. Watt can also be motioned into a second or third tight end spot given the personnel. I think he will be used more this year than last as the Steelers continue to revitalize their running game.
Wide Receivers (5): JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud
The Steelers went into last season with the same group of five and I don’t see much changing. Again not much to elaborate on here.
Tight Ends (3): Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
Top two guys are locks and just like the quarterback position, the third spot will be the wildcard. Gentry is the biggest and saw the most action between the rest of the group. He hasn’t done much to solidify his spot as the third tight end but neither has anyone else.
Offensive Line (9): Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, David DeCastro, Zach Banner, B.J. Finney, Dan Moore Jr., Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward
You can lock in six guys from this group, Okorafor, Dotson, DeCastro, Banner, and newly drafted Green and Moore. Finney gets a spot even though he was lackluster outside of Pittsburgh last season. I would give him the backup center/guard spot over JC Hassenhauer as Hassenhauer did not impress when he played. Finney also brings better size and experience to the group if Green doesn’t seem ready to step up to the starting center role. The new additions of Haeg and Coward round out the group of nine. Both bring starting experience to the group and would be reliable if any injuries were to occur. Both have started 50% of the time or more during their careers.
Defensive Line (6): Cam Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Henry Mondeaux
After the top four guys it gets a little hazy with this group. Loudermilk should get a spot on the roster given the Steelers felt strongly enough to trade a 2022 4th round selection to trade up and get him. He was also described as an unpolished Heyward so that is not something you want to leave to chance on the waiver wire/practice squad. Mondeaux gets the final spot of the group because he was called upon most frequently last season when COVID hit the team. I won’t discount Isaiah Buggs or Carlos Davis but the last two defensive line spots will be an interesting battle to watch in camp.
Inside Linebackers (4): Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson
Unfortunately I think last season was the last for Marcus Allen and the Steelers. Allen was converted to linebacker in 2020 and saw significant special teams snaps, but I just think he is one of those guys who doesn’t have a true position. The rookie Johnson gets it as he is more of a natural linebacker compared to Allen. Johnson played 4 years of SEC football so he has continuously gone against the best of the best. He also had a great Pro Day posting a 4.57 40-yard dash, 128-inch broad jump, 38.5-inch vertical jump, and a 4.03 shuttle time. A good possibility he could be Bush light (not the beer) if Bush is not fully healed to start the season.
Outside Linebackers (4): T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Cassius Marsh, Quincy Roche
Watt and Highsmith will dominate the snaps but their backups leave a lot to question. Marsh was signed to come back this season and it feels more out of necessity than want. Roche will come in as a very polished rookie and could prove to be Highsmith 2.0 in rotational snaps. I really hope the Steelers add another free agency addition to replace Marsh but there is a chance the Steelers decide to bring on another edge player and cut a player away from the secondary.
Safeties (5): Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Antoine Brooks, Tre Norwood, Arthur Maulet
Fitzpatrick and Edmunds will command the back end together for at least one more season. Brooks and Norwood both are players that even though they are listed as a safety, they can play multiple positions. Brooks plays more as a prototypical strong safety and can be a sub package linebacker if needed, one of the reasons why Allen might not make the roster. Norwood is more of typical free safety but can also be a nickel cornerback if needed. I think they will use him in the same role as Sean Davis’s rookie season but he will not be as taxed trying to carry the load as a starter. Maulet was a late addition to the group but I think with Brooks and Norwood being used in multiple ways, they need someone who can solely focus as a backup safety.
Cornerbacks (5): Joe Haden, Cam Sutton, Justin Layne, James Pierre, Shakur Brown
A position most anticipated the Steelers to address very early in the draft after losing Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton but that wasn’t the case. Instead the organization has given the indication they are very comfortable with the group they already had. Haden, Sutton, Layne, and Pierre are locked to be the top guys. Norwood, as previously mentioned, should serve as a 5th cornerback specifically at nickel corner. So the 5th true cornerback spot is going to be a good camp battle to watch. Brown and Mark Gilbert should be the two that battle it out for the final roster spot. Brown was a surprising player that went undrafted and Gilbert is UDFA that has the talent level but was unable to stay healthy during his college career. Brown appears to be the favorite as the Steelers signed him to a UDFA contract with a $25,000 signing bonus, something that is very rare that the Steelers do. The Steelers could head into the year with six true cornerbacks but I think Norwood’s versatility will limit the group to five.
Specialists (3): Chris Boswell (K), Kameron Canaday (LS), Pressley Harvin III (P)
Boswell and Canaday, no surprises there. Harvin III is a punter the Steelers used a draft selection on, the first punter they drafted since Daniel Sepulveda in 2007. I think this signals the end of Jordan Berry as the Steelers were unhappy with him last season. They gave Dustin Colquitt a try for 5 games before his release and Berry’s return. Harvin III was arguably the best punter in the draft, so this spot is his to lose.
What do you think, SteelerNation? Any surprise players you see making the roster? Drop a comment below!