Pittsburgh Steelers: Who Is Competing For A Roster Spot?

Which Steelers players are fighting for a final roster spot
(Abigail Dean/Pittsburgh Steelers)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are halfway through training camp. So who is competing for a roster spot? Instead of looking at the top, let’s look towards the bottom of the roster to find out for the Pittsburgh Steelers: Who is competing for a roster spot.

To do this we’ll break down by the offense and then the defense. Then we’ll look at the position that is up for grabs. Then discuss the players looking to make it. Let’s start with the offense.

Who Is Competing For A Roster Spot: Offense

RB3: Anthony McFarland Jr. vs Jaylen Warren

I label this battle as the third running back, but really this player could be the backup. Benny Snell Jr. is a near lock to make this roster because of the trust Head Coach Mike Tomlin has in him and his special teams value. While I believe Snell is a solid runner, this third running back could take over any duties to spell Najee Harris.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is entering his third season after being a fourth round draft pick by the Steelers. He saw action in 11 games as a rookie, but an injury kept him out for the start of last season and he never got any traction. McFarland is a potential lightning to Harris’ thunder, but going into year three we haven’t seen a lot, and it might not be enough.

Jaylen Warren is presumably the person staring McFarland down. Warren is a UDFA from Oklahoma State, and fits the stockier build Pittsburgh usually values in the position. So far he has been the camp darling, and has many wondering if he can beat McFarland out for this roster spot.

WR6: Miles Boykin vs Anthony Miller vs Cody White

Similar to running back, I label this wide receiver six because I have Gunner Olszewski as a lock to be the team’s return specialist. But one of these three players will likely start the year as fourth on the depth chart at receiver. Ahead of Olszewski (who hopefully almost never sees the field on offense) and Calvin Austin III (a day three rookie re-learning the slot receiver position).

The Steelers claimed Miles Boykin off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens. Boykin has value as a height/weight/speed guy with special teams value. For the offense he would be an outside receiver, primarily at the “Z”.

Anthony Miller found his to the Steelers last year after three years in Chicago. Miller spent most of the year on the practice squad. He could never quite hang on to the game day roster despite the injuries Pittsburgh had at receiver. Nonetheless he’s back for a full offseason with the team and reports are good out of camp. He is also primarily a slot receiver. A position that remains open with the departure of JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Cody White is the final player competing for this roster spot. White spent the majority of last season on the 53-man roster. He has experience at every spot at the position, and brings some special teams value. When Diontae Johnson began training camp by holding in, White was the first to get first team reps at the “X” position.

OL9: John Leglue vs Trent Scott

The offensive line looks to be in better shape than last year. You have Dan Moore Jr., Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole, James Daniels and Chukwuma Okorafor starting. Your swing tackle is likely Joe Haeg. Backup guard is Kendrick Green. And backup center is J.C. Hassenauer. But the ninth offensive lineman is likely up for grabs. And two players are competing for the roster spot.

John Leglue was last season’s Cinderella story. A UDFA who started the year on the practice squad, Leglue worked his way onto the roster through his versatility and effort. In camp last year he played every offensive line position other than left tackle, and even worked on his long snapping. He ended up playing seven games and finishing the season as the team’s left guard. That position flexibility is pretty valuable in a ninth offensive lineman.

He’ll be competing against Trent Scott. Scott is a four year veteran, and has played for Offensive Line Coach Pat Meyer every year of his career. Scott is a tackle-only, but can play both right and left tackle in a pinch. With Leglue’s weak point being left tackle and Scott’s history with Meyer he is certainly in the mix for the final roster spot.

OLB3&4: Genard Avery vs Derrek Tuszka vs Delontae Scott

The backup outside linebacker position has been a weak point for Pittsburgh as of late. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a consistent rotational edge rusher since 2020 when Alex Highsmith was a rookie. This year doesn’t look to be too different.

Genard Avery was a free agent pickup this summer. Avery has a squaty body at 6’0 250pounds that Pittsburgh has preferred in the past. He had a strong rookie season in 2018 in Cleveland with 4.5 sacks and seeing action in all 16 games. Since then it’s been inconsistent for Avery who was moved around on defense and is now on his third team in the league.

Derrek Tuszka enters his third season in the league and was with the Steelers last year. Tuszka had his issues defensively – primarily in the run game, however it is his special teams work that might keep him around. Tuszka played in nearly half of the team’s special teams snaps last year, and might be the best in that area among the backup edge rushers. He has also gotten work in camp as a backup long snapper.

Delontae Scott is also in his third NFL season after going undrafted in 2020. He received his first NFL action with Pittsburgh last season. Reports out of camp are that Scott is competing and making plays – primarily batting balls at the line of scrimmage. Scott is on the outside looking in, but a strong end of camp and some good snaps in preseason could earn him a roster spot.

MLB 4&5: Marcus Allen vs Buddy Johnson vs Mark Robinson

Should the Steelers keep four edge rushers, they’ll likely keep five inside linebackers. This would make sense since inside linebackers typically translate better to special teams. With Myles Jack, Devin Bush, and Robert Spillane essentially locked in, there are three players fighting for the last two roster spots. It should be mentioned Ulysees Gilbert III was waived injured on August 10th. Gilbert was competing for one of these spots before his injury.

Marcus Allen is on the inside looking out – but is dealing with a hamstring injury. Allen was fifth on the team in special teams snaps last season and was the team’s upback for the punt unit. His versatility as a former safety also gives him some value on defense.

Buddy Johnson (year two) and Mark Robinson (rookie) are two young players with some promise. Johnson dealt with some injuries last year in a crowded middle linebacker room, but was a fourth round pick in 2021 and got some special teams reps last year. Robinson was a seventh round pick this year and has just one year experience on defense in college. But his athleticism and instincts should make him a strong special teamer with some potential on defense.

As long as Allen can get healthy before the end of the preseason, I expect him to make the roster. Especially with Gilbert being gone. That leaves the two young guys to compete for the final roster spot, while the other hopes to make it to the practice squad.

DB 8&9: Justin Layne vs James Pierre vs Damontae Kazee vs Arthur Maulet

The Steelers look to be in much better shape in the defensive back room than they were last season. Near locks for the team are safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Tre Norwood, Miles Killebrew, Cam Sutton, Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon. There’s likely two spots left with four players competing for them.

Justin Layne vs James Pierre is likely one roster spot. Layne has been a consistent special teamer the last few seasons, and is in theory also an outside corner. However he’s seen less than 150 snaps on defense in three seasons. Pierre more doubled that just last season, and also brings some special teams ability. How those two play in the preseason, and if Pierre can match Layne’s ability on special teams, will determine who wins the spot.

Arthur Maulet vs Damontae Kazee I see as another battle. Both players have received a lot of first team reps so far in camp, although for Kazee it was due to injury. Maulet saw action in 16 games last season for Pittsburgh primarily as a run down nickel corner. He is a good run defender for the position, but was mostly pulled off the field on passing downs.

Kazee is a versatile piece that can play anywhere. But might be redundant with Norwood. Kazee bounced back and played in all 17 games last year after suffering a torn achilles in 2020.

There is still a lot to be sorted out – and luckily there’s still a few weeks to do so! We’ll get a good look at some of (if not most of) these players in Saturday’s preseason game Saturday against the Seahawks.

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