As the 2021 NFL season comes closer, the Pittsburgh Steelers roster still has some holes. There will be some new names on the roster due to the roster having undergone some turnover this off-season. Of course, somewhere between 45 and 50 roster spots will be pretty well set in stone. There will, however, be a few breakout players that emerge at training camp. These are some of the names to keep an eye on as the off-season advances.
Darkhorse Candidates for the Pittsburgh Steelers 53 Man Roster
Of these potential surprise candidates, Brown is probably the most likely to end up on the final roster. Though he is a promising player, this probability is mostly due to the extreme lack of depth in the Steelers cornerback room. As the roster currently stands, there is no clear candidate to replace Mike Hilton in the nickel cornerback role. Cameron Sutton needs to move to the outside in place of Steven Nelson, so he’s no longer an option on the inside.
An undrafted rookie out of Michigan State, Brown was a quality pickup for the Steelers. Many analysts and draft experts were surprised to see him go unselected. Pittsburgh gave him a generous contract for an undrafted rookie, suggesting they have high hopes for Brown. If he can perform well at training camp, the odds are decent that Shakur Brown will make the final Steelers roster. There are no guarantees, though, especially for an undrafted rookie.
The tight end room could look much different in Pittsburgh in 2021. After Vance McDonald’s retirement, the team was left with a gaping hole at the position. They didn’t wait long to address it, choosing Pat Freiermuth in the second round of the draft. The rookie will join Eric Ebron and form a promising tight end duo with a lot of versatility and upside in the passing game. Freiermuth is also a strong blocker, which is a necessity because Ebron is not a blocker whatsoever.
Blocking is where Kevin Rader comes into play. 2019 fifth round pick Zach Gentry has failed to make any noise through his first two seasons with the Steelers. Once considered to have a lot of upside as a pass catcher, Gentry just hasn’t panned out. Though Rader’s ceiling as a receiver isn’t as high as Gentry’s, the former is a much better blocker. There’s value in having a predominantly-blocking tight end, especially on a team who is clearly focused on strengthening their running game. Don’t be surprised to see Rader make the final cut in 2021, which means Gentry would be saying goodbye.
This one is bold and not very likely, but don’t count it out. The backup quarterback position is up for grabs, and it will come down to Haskins and Mason Rudolph to fill the spot. Pittsburgh seems to love having Josh Dobbs and his high football IQ in the black and gold, so he will likely remain the number three quarterback and a weekly gameday inactive. That means one of Rudolph and Haskins will be the backup, and the other will likely be sent packing.
There is familiarity with Rudolph and the Steelers, but that might not necessarily be a good thing. A former third round pick, Rudolph has shown very small flashes during his time in Pittsburgh. When he replaced Ben Roethlisberger in 2019, Rudolph had some good moments and steady performances, but also several bad showings. He doesn’t have much arm talent; his deep ball has no real zip on it. Even worse is Rudolph’s footwork; he is essentially a statue in the pocket. The same could be said of Haskins, though. Either way, the Steelers aren’t in a great spot with their quarterback room. Haskins might have higher upside than Rudolph. If he has a good camp, he could find his way onto the roster.
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