Depth is one of the reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers have not had a losing season since 2003, the second-longest stretch in the NFL. Under the direction of longtime general manager Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh has perennially fielded one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, something that has allowed them to avoid major rebuilds while staying in playoff contention on an annual basis.
Last season, despite losing Ben Roethlisberger for 14 games, running back James Conner for six games and JuJu Smith-Schuster for four games, the Steelers still managed to go 8-8 while remaining in the thick of the AFC playoff race up until the final moments of the regular season. With Roethlisberger back under center, and with several new additions via the draft as well as in free agency, the Steelers are again expected to compete for a playoff berth while possibly putting an end to their two-year playoff drought.
With training camp on the horizon, we decided to project what the Steelers' 53-man roster will look like when Pittsburgh kicks off the 2020 regular season against the Giants on Monday Night Football. While a significant portion of the Steelers' roster is already pretty much set in stone, there are a few position battles fans should keep an eye on.
Rookies will be denoted with a (*).
Without further ado, let's jump right into it.
|QB||Ben Roethlisberger||Mason Rudolph||Devlin Hodges|
|RB||James Conner||Benny Snell||Anthony McFarland Jr.*|
|LWR||JuJu Smith-Schuster||Deon Cain|| |
|RWR||James Washington||Chase Claypool*|| |
|SWR||Diontae Johnson||Ryan Switzer|| |
|TE||Eric Ebron||Vance McDonald||Zach Gentry|
|LT||Alejandro Villanueva||Chukwuma Okorafor|| |
|LG||Matt Feiler||Stefen Wisniewski|| |
|C||Maurkice Pouncey||Stefen Wisniewski|| |
|RG||David DeCastro||Kevin Dotson*|| |
|RT||Zach Banner||Chukwuma Okorafor|| |
The only question surrounding the Steelers' quarterback position is whether or not Paxton Lynch or J.T. Barrett can beat out Devlin Hodges for the No. 3 spot. A far more interesting position battle is at running back, where Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. and Kerrith Whyte will compete for two positions. My guess is that Snell (who had several impressive games as a rookie in 2019) and McFarland will grab those two spots.
There's plenty of questions as it relates to the Steelers' offensive line, which is looking to fill its vacancy at left guard following Ramon Foster's retirement. The team is also looking for a new backup guard/center after B.J. Finney signed with the Seahawks during free agency. Free agent signee Stefen Wisniewski will compete to be the team's new left guard, but that job could also go to Matt Feiler, the team's starting right tackle last season who initially saw playing time with the Steelers as a guard.
If Feiler switches positions, that would create another position battle at right tackle between Zach Banner, Chukwuma Okorafor and Darwin Gray. Given Wisniewski's experience and versatility, it would make sense for him to be in a backup role, which would allow him to fill any plugs that may need filled during the season. Look for rookie guard Kevin Dotson, who has received high marks from offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, to earn a roster spot as a backup. Chukwuma will likely reprise his role at swing tackle.
As far as Pittsburgh's receivers are concerned, the addition of Chase Claypool could allow Smith-Schuster to return to the slot, where he was much more productive during his first two seasons in Pittsburgh. Fans should also expect significant contributions from Diontae Johnson and James Washington, who combined to catch 103 passes for 1,415 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The addition of Eric Ebron (who caught 13 touchdown passes for the Colts in 2018) should also help open things up for Roethlisberger, who led the NFL with 5,129 passing yards during his last full season under center.
|DE||Stephon Tuitt||Tyson Alualu|| |
|NT||Chris Wormley||Daniel McCullers|| |
|DT||Cam Heyward||Isaiah Buggs|| |
|LOLB||T.J. Watt||Alex Highsmith*||Tuzar Skipper|
|ROLB||Bud Dupree||Ola Adeniyi||Tuzar Skipper|
|LILB||Devin Bush||Ulysees Gilbert||Christian Kuntz|
|RILB||Vince Williams||Robert Spillane||Christian Kuntz|
|LCB||Joe Haden||Justin Layne|| |
|RCB||Steven Nelson||Alexander Myres|| |
|SCB||Mike Hilton||Cam Sutton|| |
|FS||Minkah Fitzpatrick||Marcus Allen|| |
|SS||Terrell Edmunds||Jordan Dangerfield||Antoine Brooks Jr.*|
All but one of the Steelers' 2019 starters on the defensive side of the ball will be back for the 2020 season. The only change to Pittsburgh's starting defense is at nose tackle, with Chris Wormley, a former Raven, replacing Javon Hargrave. The Steelers are also welcoming back Stephon Tuitt, who missed most of the 2019 season with a torn pectoral muscle.
The Steelers replaced former backup outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo with third-round pick Alex Highsmith, who recorded 15 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss during his final season at Charlotte. Another rookie, safety Antoine Brooks Jr., will also look to make an impact in a reserve role. Brooks, who started his career at Maryland as a linebacker before switching to safety, could be a significant asset as far as run defense is concerned. Brooks and Highsmith will also be expected to make an impact on special teams.
Pittsburgh's biggest question mark on defense is at inside linebacker, where the Steelers have depth concerns behind starters Devin Bush and Vince Williams after releasing Mark Barron and allowing veteran Tyler Matakevich to sign with the Bills as a free agent. Combined, the trio of Christian Kuntz, Ulysees Gilbert and Robert Spillane have made 16 tackles in 17 regular season games. And while each player has decent potential, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the Steelers to pick up a proven veteran at that position at some point prior to the start of training camp.
The Steelers' secondary, a question mark several years ago, is now one of the strengths of the team. The unit includes Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, veteran cornerback Steven Nelson, 2018 first-round pick Terrell Edmunds, and slot corners Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton. Last season, the secondary allowed the third-fewest passing yards in the NFL. The Steelers' 28 interceptions was the second-highest total in the league.
Pittsburgh also possesses one of the top starting linebacker units in the league in Bush, Williams, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Watt and Dupree combined to record 26 sacks last season, while Bush, a rookie last season, led the Steelers in tackles (109) while also tying for the team lead with four fumble recoveries. Williams, a former sixth-round pick who cracked Pittsburgh's starting lineup as a rookie back in 2013, has made 55 starts in 107 career regular-season games.
|K||Chris Boswell|| |
|P||Jordan Berry|| |
|LS||Kameron Canaday|| |
|KR||Ryan Switzer||Anthony McFarland Jr.*|
|PR||Diontae Johnson||Cam Sutton|
Chris Boswell returned to Pro Bowl form in 2019, connecting on 29 of his 31 field goal attempts (93.5%) last season. The Steelers also found a new star punt returner in Diontae Johnson, who scored on an 85-yard return during Pittsburgh's Week 14 victory over the Cardinals. The return of Ryan Switzer should help improve the team's 18.1-yard kickoff return average from last season. The Steelers may also elect to place the speedy McFarland on the kick return team, as McFarland returned his lone kickoff return 40 yards during his time at Maryland.