By Jeremy Hritz
It took me long enough to get here, but my first 53-man roster prediction for the 2022 season is complete. As was my experience last season, this was a difficult exercise, and the Steelers have several challenging decisions ahead of them as they build their team for the upcoming season. I analyze each position and give my rationale behind who stays, who goes, and who is on the cusp. Before the start of the season, I will have 3-4 more updates of my roster prediction.
Mitchell Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, Chris Oladokun
Yes, Mason Rudolph is not making this team. The Steelers have been shopping the Oklahoma State product without success, but once a team becomes quarterback needy during training camp, he is as a good as gone. Many believe he is going to require a 6th round pick, but I can’t see anything more than a 7th rounder for his services. Will they even get that?
Trubisky gets the start, Pickett is the backup, and Oladokun is the #3 because of his athleticism and strong arm. He will be given every opportunity to show he belongs on the roster to grow into a a viable option.
Running Back (3)
Najee Harris, Bennie Snell, Jaylen Warren
Harris is a no-brainer, and I am anticipating nothing short of 1500 rushing for him, while Snell, as much as I am not impressed, will serve as his backup. Anthony McFarland is as good as done, as he cannot stay healthy, and his play has been spotty and unnatural. Unless he can produce an out-of-this-world preseason, he is finished before his third season begins. Jaylen Warren is an intriguing prospect out of Oklahoma State who is a physical, squatty runner with potential. I think he has a leg up on Mataeo Durant, and he is my first wildcard prediction for this year’s roster.
Derek Watt, Connor Heyward
I struggled with keeping Watt on the roster due to his limited (extremely limited) contributions on the field in 2021. However, as a team captain and a teammate favorite, it is hard to envision him not making the roster. The only way this could happen is if Heyward, who is tremendously versatile, has a phenomenal camp and makes him expendable. Can we please get more fullback in 2022? (Note: I am fully aware that Heyward projects as a tight end as well, but I put him with the fullbacks out of convenience).
Wide Receiver (5)
Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Calvin Austin, George Pickens, Gunnar Olzewski
The wide receiver position was an easy one for me, as it’s the two vets in Johnson and Claypool, the two rookies in Austin and Pickens, and then the special-teams All Pro, Olzewski, who will be given an opportunity to grow as a receiver. Anthony Miller, Steven Sims, or Cody White could get stashed on the practice squad, and though I’m not 100% confident in it, the Steelers could decide to keep Miles Boykin, but hey already have that type of receiver on the roster.
Tight End (2)
Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry
Freiermuth is poised for a big season in year number 2, while Gentry showed promise n his development in 2021. Tight end has become a subtle position of strength for the Steelers, and with support from the versatile Connor Heyward, I am expecting big things from this group. As long as someone can throw it to them.
Offensive Line (9)
James Daniels, Kendrick Green, Mason Cole, Kevin Dotson, Chuks Okorafor, Dan Moore, Joe Haeg, John Leglue, JC Hassenauer
I’m going heavy on offensive linemen, and I struggled with the decision of whether or not to cut or keep Hassenauer, who has valuable experience at the center position, despite Green more than likely serving as the backup center. I’m still uncertain here, and this more than likely will change as things transpire in camp. No real surprises, with Leglue and Haeg returning for depth to build on what they provided last season. I’m hopeful one of the UDRFAs they picked up land on the practice squad, which there is precent for, and in the past, a legitimate path to the 53.
Defensive Line (7)
Tyson Alualu, Montravius Adams, Cameron Heyward, DeMarvin Leal, Isaiah Loudermilk, Chris Wormley, Larry Ogunjobi
I kept 7 on the defensive line, and maybe I am being a bit bullish on Adams making the roster after the signing of Ogunjobi. With as many problems as the Steelers had in 2021 with the defensive line, the more bodies the better for a consistent rotation to keep the unit fresh. Other than Adams, the only other player who possibly could be cut is Wormley, but he had his best season last year, and it would be nonsensical to do so. The DL should be much improved this season as long as they can stay healthy, and I’m excited to see what Loudermilk provides after a solid rookie showing.
Inside Linebacker (4)
Devin Bush, Myles Jack, Buddy Johnson, Mark Robinson
Inside linebacker was another difficult position for me to figure out, as I was on the fence about Robert Spillane. I definitely see his value from the starting experience he acquired in the past few seasons, but he is limited athletically, and beyond depth, there isn’t much upside. For this reason, I kept the rookie Robinson due to his potential for growth and upside, though I would not be surprised to see them keep Spillane and stash Robinson on the practice squad. It’s the end of the road for Ulysses Gilbert and Marcus Allen.
Outside Linebacker (4)
TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Genard Avery, Derek Tuszka
Outside backer is straightforward, and I have no surprises here. Avery, who can also take snaps at inside backer, along with Tuszka, are the next men up to spell Watt and Highsmith. Whether or not UDRFAs TD Moultry or Tyree Johnson can be the next Adrian Robinson or Tuzar Skipper remains to be seen. And no, despite the sentiment from others, I don’t forsee the team signing a veteran OLB.
Ahkello Witherspoon, Cam Sutton, Tre Norwood, Levi Wallace, James Pierre, Arthur Maulet
Witherspoon and Sutton are your starters, with Wallace as your next man up. Norwood and Maulet will serve as the slot/sub-package corners, with Pierre getting one more year of development to show whether or not he belongs in the NFL. This is the position I feel least confident about on defense, as we just don’t know what type of performance to expect over the course of a year from Witherspoon, and the type of growth Sutton will demonstrate this year. Justin Layne is finished with the Steelers, and the team will take hard looks at UDRFAs Carlins Platel and Chris Steele.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Karl Joseph, Miles Killebrew
The Steelers have nice depth at the safety position with Kazee and Joseph, should they need to call upon it this season. I wrote earlier this month that safety is a quiet position of strength for the team, and we could see Edmunds have his best season knowing he is on a one-year contract, auditioning for other teams. Killebrew is a special teams demon, in addition to providing versatility as a hybrid linebacker.
Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin, Christian Kuntz
No surprises here, and this won’t change (minus an absolute implosion by Harvin this preseason).