5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make the Steelers' Final 53-Man Roster

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IJuly 7, 2014

5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make the Steelers' Final 53-Man Roster

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have some challenging choices to make during this season’s training camp. Even though they return 10 starters on offense and eight on defense, the depth on this lineup will be vital.

    The depth of this team was tested heavily in 2013, so it might be time for Pittsburgh to roll the dice a little when it comes to those final precious roster spots. Obviously, if you are going to go with some elite athletes who might not be as football-ready, depth will suffer. It’s a calculated risk.

    Let’s look at five dark-horse candidates who could make this team’s final roster. All are interesting prospects with long odds. The risk/reward for giving up roster spots on these guys is high, but if you are a team that is ready to win, why not give it a shot?

Eric Waters, TE

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    The key to getting a dark-horse player on the depth chart is knowing you have confidence in your starters. The Steelers have one of the steadiest starting tight ends in the entire league with Heath Miller. Not flashy or explosive, Miller uses a physical game and veteran savvy to remain very productive.

    Miller’s spot on the team gives hope that uber-athletic rookie right end Eric Waters has a shot to make the team. Beyond Miller, the Steelers have little to get excited about among the incumbents. This gives the 6’4”, 245-pound Waters a real shot to make the team. 

    For most NFL teams, they wrapped up rookie mini camps today. Here's TE Eric Waters at #Steelers camp today. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/MvbH2UpMHs

    — Mark Kim (@The_Mark_Kim) May 19, 2014

    Initially, Waters would be asked to play special teams, where he could be a star, while he refines his game. Surprisingly, while at Missouri, Waters was utilized almost exclusively as a blocker, even though his skill set looked the part of a big receiving target.

C.J. Goodwin, WR

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    Undrafted rookie wide receiver C.J. Goodwin might be the darkest of dark horses on this list. The Steelers have a great stable of wide receivers right now, and the battle for those final spots on the depth chart will be incredibly competitive.

    Why is Goodwin a possible candidate to make it, even under these circumstances? It doesn’t hurt when Hall of Fame defensive back Mel Blount endorses you: 

    New steelers WR CJ Goodwin worked for Mel Blount. Blount called steelers to get Goodwin a tryout. Week later they sign him. #CalU

    — Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) June 4, 2014

    However, beyond the endorsement, Goodwin’s game is a complete unknown. He saw very little action in college, so if he makes the team, it’ll be strictly based on what he does at training camp. Long odds for sure, but who doesn’t love an underdog story? Especially from one who can do this: 

    #Steelers pic.twitter.com/acqAEA7ClF

    — Curt Popejoy (@NFLdraftboard) June 21, 2014

Howard Jones, LB

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    The play of a great athlete just jumps off the screen—the player who is just a little quicker, a little faster and a little more explosive than the rest. When the NFL had their annual scouting combine, that’s exactly what Shepherd linebacker/defensive end Howard Jones did. In fact, he was one of the best all-around athletes at the entire event.

    All of that wasn’t enough to get him drafted, but it got him to the Steelers roster as an undrafted free agent. That, mixed with an apparent need for more pass-rushing outside linebackers really works to Jones’ advantage. 

    Howard Jones trades in his #7 for #34 as he continues to work at the Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie Camp. pic.twitter.com/76MswIIyRh

    — Shepherd Football (@ShepherdRamsFB) May 19, 2014

    Jones is in a situation similar to Waters'. His best shot to make the team initially could be by becoming a special teams ace. With his combination of size and speed, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him as a special teams leader early on. Jones just needs a little meat on his bones and some refinement to his pass-rush moves, and he’ll be ready to roll.

Vic So'oto, LB

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    It would certainly qualify as a feel-good story if linebacker Vic So’oto made the final roster. He is a dark horse because in his short three-year career, So’oto has found his way on and off of five different teams.

    So’oto’s situation is unique. Clearly, he has been unable to stick with a team during his tenure in the league. However, he must have some potential, because teams continue to give him a shot. The Steelers find themselves in a position where they need depth at outside linebacker, and he might be one of the four best on the roster. 

    Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Mark Kaboly certainly thinks So’oto has a shot:

    A couple guys to keep eye on heading into training camp for Steelers are WR Justin Brown and LB Vic So'oto. Both could sneak onto the 53-man

    — Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) May 30, 2014

    So’oto might not be terribly talented, but there is something about his athletic potential when healthy that has been enticing to more than one defensive coordinator. If there’s any coach who can tap into that talent, it is certainly Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Brendon Kay, QB

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    Rookie quarterback Brendon Kay is a fascinating player. He was very productive during his time at the University of Cincinnati, amassing 3,439 yards of offense and 28 touchdowns in 2013. His shortcomings in his game are fairly obvious, but he’s an athletic quarterback who can beat you with his arm or his legs.

    The road to Kay making the final 53-man roster might not be as daunting as you might believe. Veteran Bruce Gradkowski is entrenched as the backup, but that No. 3 quarterback spot is wide open. Or at least it should be.

    There’s nothing that Landry Jones has done during his time with the Steelers to warrant even a modicum of job security. Kay’s accuracy and athleticism are superior to Jones', and he’s shown that early. 

    Rookie quarterback Brendon Kay is quite accurate. Dare I say more accurate than Landry Jones was all of last year?

    — Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) May 16, 2014

    At 32 years old, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is at the apex of his career arc. No quarterback on this roster is the long-term answer. What Pittsburgh needs out of their reserves is someone who can come in and spark the offense if Roethlisberger should go down. In all honestly, Kay might be a better option for that over Jones.