There wasn't much to get excited about last night in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 18-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers, since the vast majority of starters on both sides sat out the preseason finale.
Nevertheless, a few players did stand out in their final quest for a roster spot, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where the Steelers' pass rush notched three sacks and held Carolina to field goal attempts on all five of their red zone trips.
1. Arthur Moats
Moats was a force off the edge, motoring his way into the backfield to drop Joe Webb twice and finish the game with 1.5 sacks. His intensity and leadership helped set the tone for a defense filled with mostly youngsters and unproven talent.
2. Jordan Dangerfield
Dangerfield was all over the field Thursday night, racking up 10 tackles and finding his way onto the highlight reel by leveling Webb when the quarterback ran downfield to block on a broken play. There might not be a spot on this roster for Dangerfield, but I think he’s proven without a doubt he can play in the NFL.
Mathews went off late with a neck injury, but not before being disruptive all night and making one impressive tackle-for-loss despite being held. Steelers fans hope the injury is a minor one because Mathews is next in line to start if Cameron Heyward’s ankle does keep him out for Week 1.
4. Daryl Richardson
On a night when rush lanes were few and far between, Richardson churned out nine carries for 45 yards and a touchdown, ripping off a 26-yard run for the Steelers' biggest play of the night. He’s secured a roster spot for at least the first three weeks while Le'Veon Bell serves his suspension.
5. Artie Burns
He wasn’t perfect, but Burns chipped in four tackles and broke up a few passes, including one in which he was just unable to squeeze a diving interception that would have thwarted a Panthers’ scoring drive. Solid confidence booster for the rookie corner after an up-and-down preseason.
1. Xavier Grimble
It has been a disappointing preseason for Grimble, who dropped his only target on Thursday night, continuing a troubling trend of poor hands and concentration. His blocking hasn’t been much better, and I wouldn’t be so sure the Steelers carry him on the 53-man roster despite the slim pickings they currently have at tight end.
2. Chris Hubbard
Hubbard looked out of place at tackle again, and although it is not his primary position, I’m not sure how much longer we can continue to herald his “versaility” as an asset. He’s a lock to make the roster with Jerald Hawkins going on injured reserve, and Hubbard may even be in line for a hat on game days.
If there was even a slim hope remaining for Ayers to make the final 53, that may have been dashed Thursday night when the rookie returner failed to call off his teammates on a punt that hit the back of Steven Johnson’s leg and found its way into the hands of a Panthers’ defender. The practice squad is a safe bet for the Houston product.
4. Cameron Stingily
Stingily may be Richardson’s stiffest competition for the Steelers’ final running back slot, but fumbling away your first and only carry of the night probably wasn’t the running back’s desirable last impression. Brandon Brown-Dukes replaced him on the next drive, marking what could be the end of Stingily’s time in Pittsburgh.
5. Daniel McCullers
The hulking nose tackle came off the bench behind Javon Hargrave, perhaps an indication that the Steelers are planning on starting the rookie from South Carolina State when Week 1 rolls around. McCullers hasn’t been bad, but his limited range and lack of pass rush ability will always ultimately minimize his effectiveness. It could be Hargrave’s time in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.