By Matthew Marczi
Who would have thought that preseason depth chart moves actually meant something? The Pittsburgh Steelers discretely made a couple of depth chart moves throughout training camp, and it turns out that a lot of them stuck, two of which I previously noted.
First, it was cornerback Isaiah Green moving ahead of Josh Victorian on the depth chart, listed as the third cornerback behind Ike Taylor—which, considering Taylor is the team’s top cornerback, could be perceived as fifth on the cornerback depth chart overall. The Steelers elected to keep five cornerbacks this year, and as it turned out, Green came out as the fifth cornerback kept on the roster.
A week later, following the release of Stevenson Sylvester, it was rookie Vince Williams leapfrogging Brian Rolle, from fourth-string to second-string behind Larry Foote, on the inside linebacker depth chart. Rolle continued to get the second-team looks in the preseason finale, but it was Williams securing the roster spot in the end.
The Steelers did not even list tight end David Johnson on their depth chart until the last preseason game, but when he was finally listed, it was right behind Matt Spaeth as the second-string tight end (with Heath Miller still on the Physically Unable to Perform List at the time, of course). That bumped Jamie McCoy down to fourth-string, also behind David Paulson, and McCoy ultimately was beaten out by veteran in-camp waiver claim Michael Palmer following the game.
Also losing their jobs following the final game, based on the pre-game depth chart, were inside linebacker Marshall McFadden, running back Jonathan Dwyer, and cornerback Terry Hawthorne.
Listed as the second-string inside linebacker behind Lawrence Timmons for the entire duration of the offseason, Marshall McFadden failed to even make the practice squad and seems to have now been signed to the practice squad of the Oakland Raiders. Superior and consistent play on special teams by Kion Wilson won the day. Technically, the Steelers could still sign McFadden to the active roster from the Raiders’ practice squad on Tuesday when they presumably move Spaeth to the short-term IR, but the decision evidently was made final when they elected to add Terence Garvin to the practice squad as the fifth inside linebacker instead.
Jonathan Dwyer had consistently been listed as third-string at running back behind the co-starters Isaac Redman and Le’Veon Bell since the second preseason game, and the Steelers obviously kept more than two running backs. He was beaten out by Felix Jones in the finale, for whom the Steelers traded outside linebacker Adrian Robinson to acquire. Jones was listed as fifth on the depth chart behind LaRod Stephens-Howling, who is now listed as third-string with Dwyer gone.
Hawthorne not only did not make the roster, he also failed to make the practice squad. Devin Smith, however, was chosen for the practice squad, and he had consistently been ranked at the bottom of the depth chart, behind not only Hawthorne, but also Victorian. Yet the Steelers opted to keep Smith, who recorded a diving interception during the preseason, over both players on the practice squad.
Other than Smith and Garvin, however, the depth chart does accurately reflect the decisions made regarding which players to retain on the practice squad. Brian Arnfelt, Justin Brown, Alan Baxter, Joe Long, Chris Hubbard, and Alvester Alexander were all the only or highest player on the depth chart at their positions that did not make the active roster.
Let this be a lesson on how important the final preseason game can be to an NFL roster. Based on the pre-game depth chart—which is admittedly never set in stone—at least four players were able to win a job either on the active roster or the practice squad by leapfrogging ahead of their competition during the preseason finale. I am sure Michael Palmer, Felix Jones, Kion Wilson, and Devin Smith are glad the league has yet to cut the preseason down to just two games.