Saturday was not an easy day for any team. With zero preseason games and an abundance of practice squad spots to fill, teams had to be conscious of the waiver wire and wary of the moves they made. Alas, every team now has 53 players on their rosters with the regular season set to kick off. The Steelers 2020 roster is initially set, just like those other teams. They made a few moves that caught people off guard, but what are the implications from those moves, and are they correct?
James Pierre battles to a roster spot
Perhaps the first surprise of the day was that the Steelers did, in fact, have an undrafted player that cracked the 53-man roster. That player was cornerback James Pierre. An underclassman out of Florida Atlantic, Pierre was once thought of as a mid-round pick heading into the Combine, but his testing results knocked him down to the undrafted free agent range.
Pierre does have good length, and on the field, much better athleticism than his combine numbers show. Combined with his fiery style of play and physicality as a press-man coverage cornerback, Pierre is working with something here. He is a willing tackler with an impact in run support. Pierre’s ball skills are decent, and he has a growing set of instincts to work as a scheme versatile cornerback.
Those strengths were shown to all be there at training camp, as Pierre drew both James Washington and Chase Claypool and consistently made plays against them. Not only did he make plays there, but he was a special teams standout as well. While he provides good depth for the Steelers 2020 roster, the hope is that he can develop into something more after a strong first camp. If the buzz is genuine, Pierre could be a diamond in the rough.
The receiver room gets a shakeup
If there were a big surprise on the day, it would be how the wide receiver room shook out. The Steelers opted to pass on keeping six wide receivers and only kept five this year. Ryan Switzer’s release, in particular, was a surprise. The buzz out of training camp seemed to say that Switzer had an impressive camp, but it was not enough for the veteran to stick.
Instead of Switzer, the Steelers kept the more explosive and dangerous returner in Ray-Ray McCloud. I am on board with this move. Listen, the Steelers have had a significant amount of return troubles, and McCloud did have at least one touchdown return in practice. Granted, that does not mean it will translate, but Switzer has just not been influential on the return units or offense. McCloud’s big-play ability is an upgrade over what Switzer gives the Steelers, especially as Switzer had the worst yards per catch in NFL history last season. The only question is if McCloud can curtail the fumbling issues that have plagued him.
Deon Cain was another release that was ultimately retained on the practice squad. He has upside to his game and had a strong finish to 2019, but did not have a ton of buzz coming out of training camp. He could be a candidate to be called up on game day with the new practice squad rules. Seeing him released is frustrating because there is some potential with his body control, ball skills, and athleticism, but the practice squad is right for his development.
Carlos Davis beats out Dan McCullers
Dan McCullers getting cut was not a huge surprise by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that it was Carlos Davis who beat him out was the surprise of the day. Henry Mondeaux was the player pushing McCullers from the training camp buzz we had heard, but the Steelers decided to bet on the rookie instead.
Davis is purely an upside pick at this point. By making the Steelers 2020 roster, it will give Davis a redshirt year to gather himself and try to take a step forward. He is very raw, and if Tyson Alualu gets hurt, I expect that Isaiah Buggs may slide over to start, as I would not anticipate Davis getting many snaps this year. Either way, it is encouraging that Davis showed enough at camp to beat out a six-year veteran.