With the 53-man roster deadline set for 4 pm ET this Saturday, players from all 32 teams will be vying for their spot on the depth chart tonight. With the start of the regular season just one week away, a look at some of the most compelling battles within the division.
One of the main roster headlines in the preseason finale surrounds the quarterback position, specifically if the Steelers will have room for four signal callers. Ben Roethlisberger turned 36 this past March, and a future without him is beginning to loom larger. While Landry Jones is relatively solidified as the primary back up, as he has been since 2015, he is not being groomed for a starting role.
Pittsburgh has drafted a quarterback in the last two drafts, selecting Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs in the fourth round in 2017 and drafting Mason Rudolph out of Oklahoma State in the third round of this year’s draft. In his senior season in Stillwater, Rudolph completed 65 percent of his passes, threw for 4,904 yards and 73 touchdowns and finished with a 170.6 passer rating, all career-high marks. While Rudolph has the edge if the Steelers decide to only keep three players at the position, Dobbs will have the opportunity to prove his worth, as the Steelers have announced he will start against the Panthers tonight.
While Dobbs did not play last week, he is trying to make the most of his second NFL preseason. In Week 1 against the Eagles, Dobbs went nine of 13 for 91 yards, had one touchdown and one interception and a passer rating of 82.5. In comparison, Rudolph went seven of 12 for 101 yards, finished with a passer rating of 85.8 and was sacked twice. Rudolph regressed in the second game against the Packers, getting sacked three times, throwing for only 46 yards and recording an interception. In contrast, Dobbs improved against Green Bay, elevating his passer rating to 116.
Other position battles:
- Linebacker: Ola Adeniyi (undrafted rookie, Toledo), Keion Adams (selected by Pittsburgh in the seventh round of the 2017 draft) and Matthew Thomas (undrafted rookie, Florida State)
- Running back: Jaylen Samuels (rookie, NC State), Stevan Ridley (five-year veteran; most notable production with the New England Patriots in 2012) and Fitzgerald Toussaint (played in all 16 games for the Steelers in 2016)
- Secondary: Brian Allen (appeared in 10 games during the Steelers 2017 season), Nat Berhe (played in 15 games for the New York Giants last season) and Jordan Dangerfield (played in 14 games for Pittsburgh in 2016)
The Bengals are in familiar territory as they look to fill the void of missing linebacker Vontaze Burfict due to suspension. Entering his seventh season, Burfict’s suspect conduct is well documented, as he has been suspended or fined 11 times during his career. He will be serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s PED policy for failing drug test back in December. He also was given a three-game suspension in 2017 for a hit on Anthony Sherman, missing six games total last year. Due to Burfict’s absence, Jordan Evans, Vincent Rey and Brandon Bell will be competing for a roster spot.
Evans was a sixth round pick out of Oklahoma in 2017, playing in 15 games and contributing 38 combined tackles. His strongest preseason game came against the Cowboys, where he had six total tackles (three solo) and one tackle for a loss. His production dipped last week in Buffalo, as he contributed only two tackles total.
Vincent Rey, who has been with the team since 2010, has started in 48 games throughout his career. He suffered a right ankle injury in Week 1 of the preseason against the Bears, sidelining him for the rest of the preseason. At 31, Rey has the benefit of veteran experience but the burden of father time, which could hurt his opportunity for reps in the regular season.
Out of Penn State, Bell played in three games for Cincinnati in 2017 with a stat line of 10 combined tackles. He played his best when he faced Chicago in Week 1 of the preseason, recording four solo tackles and one pass defensed. Bell is the least experienced of the trio, so he could use a breakout performance when they host the Colts tonight.
Other position battles:
- Cornerback: Darius Phillips (rookie, Western Michigan), KeiVarae Russell (appeared in 13 games for Cincinnati over the last two seasons) and Davontae Harris (rookie, Illinois State University)
- Defensive line: Andrew Brown (rookie, University of Virginia) and Michael Johnson (nine years of NFL experience, eight with the Bengals)
- Offensive line: Trey Hopkins (started 12 games for Cincinnati in 2017), T.J. Johnson (appeared in 13 games last season for the Bengals)
The Browns made one of their biggest splashes this offseason when they brought in Jarvis Landry to headline their receiver group. Josh Gordon’s NFL return has also dominated the news, as many continue to question his ability to remain sober and reliable. Adding further intrigue, Dez Bryant visited Cleveland in mid-August, but he left without inking deal. With all of the change, roster slots have become more competitive at the position, and Derrick Willies and Jeff Janis are on bubble watch.
Willies is an undrafted free agent, who played one season at Iowa before finishing his collegiate career with the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Over the course of three seasons, he recorded 40 receptions for 663 yards (16.6 average) and six touchdowns. In Week 1 and Week 2 Willies was target four times for zero receptions; however, last week against the Eagles he caught two passes for 26 yards total.
Janis played four seasons with the Green Bay Packers, appearing in 51 games but with little productivity. He has just one catch for five yards in Week 3 of the preseason. However, his experience could give him the edge to make the roster if he has a solid showing against the Lions.
Other position battles:
- Defensive line: Carl Nassib (played in 30 games for Cleveland over the last two years) and Nate Orchard (selected by the Browns in the second round of the 2015 draft)
- Linebacker: Genard Avery (rookie, Memphis) and James Burgess Jr. (appeared in 14 games for Cleveland during his 2017 rookie season)
- Tight end: Devon Cajuste (former Packers practice squad player in 2016) and Seth DeValve (appeared in 16 games for Cleveland during his sophomore season in 2017)