Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Few surprises in Steelers cuts, except at receiver |
Kevin Gorman, Columnist

Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Few surprises in Steelers cuts, except at receiver

Kevin Gorman
Steelers’ Johnny Holton stiff-arms the Buccaneers’ Devin White in the third quarter Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 at Heinz Field.
Steelers receiver Eli Rogers blocks the Buccaneers’ M.J. Stewart in the first quarter Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 at Heinz Field.

There were few surprises when the Pittsburgh Steelers reduced their roster to 53 players on Saturday, but one thing stood out: The NFL’s most pass-oriented team only kept five receivers.

For a team with the league’s worst run-pass ratio last season – throwing the ball about twice as much (66.6%) as they ran (33.4%) – the Steelers chose to stick with a receiving corps of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, Ryan Switzer, James Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson.

As much as the emphasis has been on whether Smith-Schuster can replace Antonio Brown as the No. 1 receiver, the better question is if the Steelers are deep enough at the position.

Brown accounted for 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns last season for the Steelers, which is more than Moncrief, Switzer and Washington had combined (100 catches for 1,138 yards and five touchdowns).

1. Goodbye, Eli

That the Steelers parted ways with Eli Rogers raised eyebrows, given that he spent three seasons with the Steelers.

When Rogers missed most of last season with a torn ACL, Ryan Switzer replaced Rogers as the slot receiver and one of Ben Roethlisberger’s reliable targets. Switzer had the edge as a return specialist.

After catching 48 passes for 594 yards and three touchdowns in 2016, Rogers had only 30 catches for 228 yards and one touchdown in 17 games over the past two seasons.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Sunday that Rogers visited the Miami Dolphins.

2. Where’s Johnny?

What was even more surprising was waiving Johnny Holton, who has three years of NFL experience and was on the receiving end of three of the biggest pass plays of the preseason.

That was the main miss on my 53-man roster projection. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Holton is a big target with speed. Apparently his catches of 59, 44 and a 31-yard touchdown weren’t enough to make the cut.

Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Steelers find a way to create room to add Holton, whether that’s on the 53-man roster or practice squad.

3. Dueling Diontaes

One of the interesting storylines was the play of Diontae Spencer, the dynamic but diminutive CFL alum.

All things being equal, I thought Spencer outshined the other Diontae and showed promise as a return specialist. But the Steelers invested a third-round pick in Diontae Johnson, which made for long odds for Spencer.

Perhaps the Steelers were hoping to stash Spencer on their practice squad (along with Tevin Jones) but the Denver Broncos claimed him on waivers. Last year, between the 53-man roster and practice squad, the Steelers kept nine receivers. This year, they kept six. That could be a sign that they might find a way to make room for Holton.

4. WPIAL connection

If there was a feel-good story to the weekend cuts, it’s that the Steelers signed cornerback Trevon Mathis of Woodland Hills and tight end Kevin Rader of Pine-Richland to their practice squad.

That’s dream-come-true stuff for two WPIAL alums.

Well, maybe not Rader.

Where Mathis starred for the Wolverines and was a Division-I recruit, Rader was an under-the-radar prospect who never dreamed he would play in the NFL.

Mathis is the more improbable story, though. He was coaching youth football for the Homewood Bulldogs when the Steelers signed him a day before their preseason opener.

5. About face

Do you remember when Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said before the NFL Draft that he tries “to put a name to a face” before trading draft picks?

Colbert mentioned Brett Keisel and Kelvin Beachum as Steelers seventh-rounders.

Of the Steelers’ nine draft picks this year, the only two to get waived were sixth-rounder Sutton Smith and seventh-rounder Derwin Gray.

It was the second consecutive year the Steelers cut their seventh-round pick. They signed Gray, an offensive lineman from Maryland, to the practice squad.

They also included their 2021 seventh-rounder to Tampa Bay in the Jerald Hawkins trade.

Hey, Steelers Nation, get the latest news about the Pittsburgh Steelers here.

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Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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