Ridiculously Early 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Projected Roster and Other Goodies (V 1.0)

It is a week from the end of the three-day NFL Draft, which most experts believe saw the Steelers tally one of their better hauls in recent memory. Moreover, thanks to some unbelievable, bust-your-tail reporting by Steelers Depotnames of the 12 undrafted free agents signed by Pittsburgh were released within a few hours after the draft, or about 36 hours sooner than usual.

The Steelers may still make some minor roster moves before late July when they open training camp in Latrobe. But their training-camp roster appears mostly set. Thus, I will do our first projected Steelers’ 53-man roster for 2012, with a few caveats, since this projection seemingly has more flexibility and thus will likely change more often than in recent years:

SURELY A VETERAN RUNNING BACK WILL BE ADDED TO THE MIX, RIGHT?

First, this projection assumes Pittsburgh will re-sign two veterans, although more minor additions could be made, including after other teams are forced to cut players to comply with the 53-player roster limit.

While I would prefer signing a more talented free agent (e.g., Tim Hightower, Jerious Norwood, Thomas Jones, Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown, etc.), odds are the Steelers will re-sign versatile, veteran tailback Mewelde Moore after their only running back addition among rookies was Chris Rainey, a 180-pound scatback/slot receiver/return specialist.

With Rashard Mendenhall a near-lock to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) for at least six weeks after tearing an ACL against the Browns in last year’s regular-season finale, the Steelers need another veteran back on the roster. Isaac Redman is a complete back who appears ready to take over the starting role, but must cut down on his fumbles.

Jonathan Dwyer has played well in both pre-season and regular-season games in his rare opportunities, rushing for 107 yards against Tennessee last season in his only extensive regular-season action and averaging 4.7 yards on 76 career pre-season carries over the last two falls. Dwyer has a chance to earn significant playing time this fall if he actually shows up in shape for training camp, something he failed to do each of the last two years.

As of right now, Baron Batch, Rainey, and John Clay are battling for what would likely be two more running back spots on the roster (excluding H-back/situational fullback types). Batch, a lightly-regarded seventh-round pick out of Texas Tech in 2011, was the surprise of the first few weeks of training camp last fall when he appeared primed to earn significant playing time as a shifty, situational receiving back who could eventually supplant Moore as the third-down back. Unfortunately, he suffered a gruesome knee injury (torn ACL and MCL) on August 10th and was placed on injured reserve for the season.

It usually takes two years for a skill-position player to fully recover from such a knee injury and Batch cannot afford to lose any of his quickness and moves, which were his strengths. With the drafting of Rainey and the probable return of Moore, Batch will need a strong camp and preseason just to make the roster.

Clay is another Big Ten power back who lacks the speed to excel in the NFL. After going undrafted despite a strong career at Wisconsin, the 248-pound Clay spent most of the 2011 season on the Steelers’ practice squad but was signed to the 53-man roster late in the year after Dwyer was lost to a season-ending injury, which occurred before Mendenhall tore his ACL.

Mostly unimpressive in limited playing time, Clay did score on a 10-yard run on his first NFL carry. Nevertheless, he has an uphill climb to make the roster. For better odds, he probably needs an injury to Redman or Dwyer, or for Dwyer to show up to Latrobe out of shape.

Moore has always been a marginal athlete for an NFL tailback and has slowed down considerably more as he approaches his 30th birthday. However, he is the most sure-handed, ball-protector from this group, by far the best in blitz pickup, and easily the most experienced NFL running back, especially in big games and clutch situations. Plus, the guy has a knack for making plays in some form (including special teams) that help win football games. Assuming he is re-signed, Moore is a near lock to make the team, because he is a Mike Tomlin favorite and the Steelers usually elect to keep their own veterans when in doubt.

PLEASE, PLEASE BRING BACK BIG MAX

The other assumption may be more of a reach. Even though the Steelers’ offensive line depth chart looks better now than it has in nearly a decade following the additions of first-round guard David DeCastro and second-round tackle Mike Adams, let’s make the assumption/hope that around the start of training camp (if not a little afterward), Pittsburgh is able to re-sign veteran tackle Max Starks (who is coming off an ACL tear suffered in the playoff loss to Denver) to a reasonable one-year deal.

Assuming Willie Colon stays healthy for the first time in two years and Adams does not fail any more piss tests, the Steelers would then release Jonathan Scott, who is slated to earn a base salary of $2.2 million for 2012, the last season on his two-year contract. Even if Starks is not signed, Scott is likely to be released unless he agrees to a significant paycut, a choice he may not even be presented.

Moreover, although DeCastro is lining up at at his college position of right guard during the team’s current rookie minicamp and Colon will initially return to play right tackle, a healthy Starks or the rapid development of Adams could result in Colon finally being moved inside to guard, which seemingly appears a more natural fit for his 6-foot-3 frame, since NFL tackles now average 6-foot-6.

DeCastro is the best pulling guard prospect to enter the NFL in a decade. Athletic guards who can pull usually play on the left-side, but Stanford wanted to keep its second best offensive lineman (Dolphins’ second-round steal Jonathan Martin) at left tackle to protect Andrew Luck’s blindside, which is why DeCastro pulled from right guard for the Cardinal.

Since Colon is familiar with playing on the right-side of the line, it makes more sense for him to be eventually (if not in 2012, then definitely in 2013) tried at right guard than left guard, allowing the more athletic DeCastro to pull from the left-side.

The other options are to keep Scott as a reserve for 2012 if he is willing to reduce his base salary from $2.2 million to $685,000 (and I doubt he would), bring in Starks as a reserve who would only start due to injury or others’ performing poorly, or cut Scott and not sign Starks, instead going with a younger, cheaper reserve or two to fill out the offensive line depth chart.

In the latter scenario, the Steelers would still have eight serviceable options on the offensive line, with Adams or guard Ramon Foster (whoever does not start), Doug Legursky and Trai Essex offering quality depth.

Chris Scott, rookie seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum, 2011 practice-squad members John Malecki and Trevis Turner, and Ryan Lee, an athletic but undrafted rookie free agent from Furman who is already a YouTube sensation amongst Steelers Nation, would all be in competition for the ninth and a possible 10th roster spot on the offensive line.

THINNEST TRAINING CAMP ROSTER SINCE THE LATE 1990s?

Mendenhall (PUP) and second-year tight end Weslye Saunders, who is suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2012 season, will not count toward the 53-man, opening-day roster. Although he may not be ready for opening day, veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton (also recovering from a torn ACL) is not expected to be placed on the PUP list, which requires players to miss at least the first six games. However, concerns about the 35-year-old Hampton’s health will almost necessitate the Steelers keeping seven defensive linemen on their 53-player roster to start the season.

There will be some camp battles for roster spots and the numbers at each position will be determined by quality of play in training camp and the preseason. For example, the Steelers could elect to keep five or six receivers, nine or ten offensive lineman, eight or nine linebackers, nine or ten defensive backs, etc.

However, the upcoming training camp and preseason is unlikely to produce the angst before final cuts that the 2011 and especially 2010 campaigns did, both of which featured ridiculously deep training-camp rosters that resulted in multiple Pittsburgh cuts who were immediately picked up by other franchises and added to their 53-man rosters (e.g., Crezdon Butler, Tony Hills, Patrick Bailey, Kraig Urbik, Stefan Logan). From that group, though, releasing Urbik – now a starting guard for the Bills – a year after making him a third-round pick seems to be the only Pittsburgh mistake.

This year it may be Pittsburgh scouring the waiver wire in early September. For example, the Steelers have historically kept five or six receivers on its 53-man roster, although six now seems a more logical number with the advent of 3- and 4-receiver sets in the team’s offensive playbook.

At this point, former Penn State standout Derrick Williams and rookie seventh-round pick Toney Clemons are the favorites for the fifth receiver spot, with both having a decent shot of making the final roster if the Steelers keeps six receivers.

Williams, though, spent the entire 2011 season out of football after being cut by the Lions following the preseason, whereas Clemons (who has a nice combination of size and speed) was not expected to be among the 253 selections in the 2012 NFL Draft, since he was rated as 368th best overall prospect by CBS SportsLine and seemingly no other major services projected him to be drafted at all.

Accordingly, annual preseason sensation Tyler Grisham seemingly picked the wrong offseason to leave Pittsburgh for Denver, since Grisham not only would have actually had his first decent chance of making the 53-man roster, but probably would have been favored to do so. Nevertheless, do not be shocked if Grisham is signed to the Steelers’ roster if he fails to make the Broncos and some youngsters in Pittsburgh’s camp do not emerge. If that happens,it would be inevitable that many fans and even some Pittsburgh media reports to compare Grisham to Wes Welker.

The Steelers, however, has been among the best franchises at identifying hidden talent among the team’s undrafted rookie free agents, with an alumni list that included eventual 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, two-time Pro Bowl tailback Willie Parker and legendary safety Donnie Shell.

Therefore, they will need some of their 12 undrafted rookie free agents (highlighted by Georgia punter Drew Butler and Pitt outside linebacker Brandon Lindsey) singed last week or some of the castoffs from other franchises signed to futures contracts this offseaon (e.g., Williams, former Ohio State star Troy Smith, FSU Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle) to have strong training camps and push for roster spots.

Considering the recent success of the Steelers’ scouting department, do not be surprised if some prospects most fans have not heard of emerge in July and August, ultimately finding their way on the 53-man roster, in part because Pittsburgh currently has more openings for its final spots than any year in nearly a decade. That should make for an interesting training camp.

Projected 53-Man, Opening-Day Roster
** = Roster Lock (95% or better barring major injury or arrest)
* = Roster Near Lock (75-94% barring major injury or arrest)
No stars = Clinging to the 53-man roster at this point
(These stars assume no more roster additions – outside of Moore and Starks – or season-ending injuries)

QB Ben Roethlisberger **
QB Byron Leftwich *
QB Charlie Batch *
RB Isaac Redman **
RB Mewelde Moore * (projected FA signee)
RB Jonathan Dwyer *

RB Chris Rainey

TE/FB/H-B D.J. Johnson *
TE/FB/H-B David Paulson
TE Heath Miller **
TE Leonard Pope

WR Mike Wallace **
WR Antonio Brown **
WR Emmanuel Sanders **
WR Jerricho Cotchery **
WR Toney Clemons

LT Max Starks * (projected FA signee)
LG David DeCastro **
C Maurkice Pouncey **
RG Willie Colon **
RT Marcus Gilbert **
C/G Doug Legursky **
T Mike Adams **
G Ramon Foster *
G/T/C Trai Essex*

 

DE Ziggy Hood **
NT Casey Hampton **
DE Brett Keisel **
DE Cameron Heyward **
NT Alameda Ta’amu **
NT/DE Steve McLendon*
DE/NT Al Woods

OLB James Harrison **
OLB LaMarr Woodley **
OLB Jason Worilds **
OLB Chris Carter
OLB Brandon Lindsey
ILB Lawrence Timmons **
ILB Larry Foote **
ILB Stevenson Sylvester **

ILB Sean Spence **

SS Troy Polamalu **
FS Ryan Clark **
S Ryan Mundy **
S Will Allen *
S Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith
CB Ike Taylor **
CB Keenan Lewis **

CB Cortez Allen **
CB Curtis Brown **

 

K Shaun Suisham
P Drew Butler
SN Greg Warren **

PUP: RB Rashard Mendenhall
SUS: TE Weslye Saunders

Opening Game-Day Inactives (7): WR Toney Clemons, TE/H-B David Paulson, OG Ramon Foster, OL Trai Essex, NT Casey Hampton or DL Al Woods, OLB Brandon Lindsey, S Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith

Last 21 Released From Camp (in order of how close they are to making team and their position matters): P Jeremy Kapinos, DE Corbin Bryant, CB Terrence Frederick, ILB Mortty Ivy, WR Derrick Williams, RB Baron Batch, WR Marquis Maze, OL Chris Scott, K Grant Ressell, CB/S Myron Rolle, OL Kevin Beachum, RB John Clay, OLB Adrian Robinson, Jr., TE/WR Wes Lyons, DB Robert Golden, TE/FB/H-B Jamie McCoy, OG/C John Malecki, QB Troy Smith (Decent shot if Leftwich or Batch is injured), OG Ryan Lee, FB Will Johnson, OT Trevis Turner

Last 14 To Make the Team (in order of likelihood of being cut and their position matters): OLB Brandon Lindsey, P Drew Butler, S Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, DE/NT Al Woods, WR Toney Clemons, TE/FB/H-B David Paulson, OLB Chris Carter, K Shaun Suisham, TE Leonard Pope, RB Chris Rainey, RB Mewelde Moore, S Will Allen, TE/FB/H-B D.J. Johnson, QB Charlie Batch

Practice Squad (8): RB Baron Batch (if fully recovered from knee injury) or RB John Clay, WR Marquis Maze, OL Trevis Turner, OG Kelvin Beachum, DE Corbin Bryant, OLB Adrian Robinson, CB Terrence Frederick, DB Robert Golden

This entry was posted in 2012 steelers, Analysis, Cool Stuff, Daily Camp Updates, Defensive Line, Draft, Free Agency, Front Office, Offensive Line, Offseason, Preseason, Wide Recievers. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Cols714

    I’ve been on record a lot about them never moving Colon to guard. However, at this point it may actually make sense to do it. I hate talking about it though because over his career that has spanned mulitple OL and OC, they’ve never moved him there. But I’m on board with it now.

    Question, who makes the better LT, Gilbert or Adams?

    • Ted

      That is a great question. On paper, it should be Adams, who has a huge wingspan and superior talent. There are concerns about his ability to handle speed rushers at left tackle, but Gilbert had the same scouting report last year. In reality, Adams was the better college left tackle in all facets and would have been a first-round pick if not for the failed test.

      But it should also be noted that Gilbert struggled most in college when he moved to left tackle, where he faced much better pass rushers than Adams saw in the Big Ten. The Big Ten produces better offensive lineman than any other conference without question. But if you want to scout offensive linemen against elite speed on the defensive line, then there is no conference that is a better gauge than the SEC, which is the No. 1 reason why it keeps winning national championships.

      For 2012, though, Gilbert at LT makes more sense due to his year of NFL experience. But it would be dumb to move him for a year and then switch him back to RT, which is why re-signing a healthy Starks as a placeholder for a year makes sense.

      Agree on Colon. He needed to play tackle when Max was the only other decent option on the roster, although it sure would have been nice to try to him at guard last year with Max and Flozell at tackle. But with Gilbert and Adams now on board, his future (by 2013 at the latest) lies at OG, or with another franchise, assuming (hopefully) he is still playing football by 2013.

      • Intropy

        Good points on Adams/Gilbert. One important note, you’re basically going on scouting reports and production in college. That’s fair since that’s all we have for Adams. But I would say that Gilbert exceeded expectations in the NFL last year given what we knew from his college play. That’s good data, and we know that the NCAA to NFL jump is difficult and even good prospects fail. Long term I’d put it at 50/50 which one should go where.

        • Ted

           There is no doubt Gilbert exceeded expectations for his rookie season. From a size perspective, Adams looks more like a RT than Gilbert. However, the scouting report says Adams has the superior feet of the two for LT. Guess we will find out soon.

  • Craigbates740

    I think the Steelers need to keep Leonard Pope . He is a 6’8 tightend who will be effective in redzone situations and goalline situations. He can be used for playaction and alleyoop pass plays. I think that the Steelers also need to cut Byron Leftwich. He had one good year as a backup. Lately he has been ineffective and immobile. Jerrod Johnson if he stays healthy and given a fair opportunity will be a very good backup Quarterback. He has a strong arm and is mobile. Charlie Batch should play more when the Steelers are winning with big leads. This will keep Big Ben healthy. With this team the Steelers should go to the playoffs and be in the running for another Super Bowl.

    • Ted

      Barring a poor camp like John GIlmore had last year, Pope is a strong bet to make the team for at least the first four weeks while Saunders is suspended, bc he joins Miller as the only pure TEs on the roster. Lyons is a WR/TE, while DJ Johnson, Paulson, and McCoy are hybrid TE/FB/H-Backs.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas
    • Ted

       That is a must-read on how lucky the Steelers got. All of us would have been elated had we traded up to 16 get DeCastro (as – per that link and others – we tried to do and had a deal in place). In my No. 1 of three mocks last week, this is exactly the trade I had us doing, giving up a 1,3, and 7 for the Jets’ 16th pick, pointing out that they would have their pick of several pass rushers at 24. Of course, no one though Couples would fall that far.

      But I also pointed out that was well below the trade value chart. Rumors are we would have given up our 1, 3, 5 and 7 in that trade, but giving up our 1,3 and 4 wouldn’t have equaled the 16th pick on the trade-value chart.

      Let’s say it was our 1,3, 5 and 7. That means we essentially got Spence, Rainey and Clemons for free. We still could have packaged the 4 and 6 to move up for Ta’amu in the fourth, but that would mean only a 6-player draft, three of which were seventh-round compensatory picks.

  • Cols714

    Is DeCastro going to start at RG or LG? I thought he was going to be the LG but all of the early reports have him as the RG which is where is was in college.

    Mendenhall must be pissed he’s injured. For the first time he might not have to make a guy miss in the backfield. Redman is going to get all the benefits now.

    Arians too. For once he could have had a decent OL and a running game.

    • Ted

      Initially, DeCastro will be tried at RG, Colon at RT, and Gilbert and Adams both at RT. I wouldn’t read to much into that, but it does make sense at this point.

      We know Gilbert can play RT, so let him get reps at LT in case Adams is not ready, Starks does not return or does not come back as a starter, or (at the very least) to give him more experience at that spot in case he has to move over from RT due to an injury during a game.

      Colon is seeing his first action in a year. You want to bring him back at the position he knows and see if he can still play tackle well, or play at all for that matter, before trying him at guard. DeCastro played RG in college, so like Colon, you do not move him until/unless you feel comfortable with Adams and/or Starks at LT, which would begin musical chairs.

  • Cols714

    FYI
    Greg Cosell over at nfl films thinks Adams is the most athletic and maybe best LT prospect in the draft.

    Of course he also believes that Zeitler will be better than DeCastro.

  • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

    FYI: just posted something via Bob Costas’ note about the Steelers wanted to trade up with the Jets for DeCastro. 

    (THAT’S RIGHT, FOLKS, YOU WANTED CONTENT SO YOU’RE GETTING CONTENT. NOW GO READ IT.)