Of course, the first night of summer was the shortest of the year, so it probably didn’t help the chances of these sleepers, but that doesn’t mean we had any less fun devising a Top 10.
And I attempted this without defining “sleeper.” A guy like Markus Wheaton might be a relative unknown to Steelers fans, but, to readers of such a sophisticated column as this one, the third-round pick on a team bereft of WR depth is certainly not a sleeper.
So, here’s the list:
10.) OG Nik Embernate seems destined for the practice squad, but I put him here, ahead of my final cuts Jamie McCoy (TE) and Brian Arnfelt (DE), because “Embernasty” has the physical ability to upset the logic of giving center-guard John Malecki the final OL spot.
9.) CB Isaiah Green is a skinny 4.2/4.3 sprinter who’ll compete with DeMarcus Van Dyke for the last skinny sprinter spot on the cornerback depth chart. The victor will be the more physical.
8.) WR Reggie Dunn would be much higher on this list if it weren’t for the presence of another lightning-quick kickoff return man, LaRod Stephens-Howling, on the roster. Dunn has soft hands. His only drawback as a receiver is that he’s 5-9, but he’s lightning with the ball. He remains on the list because of that speed.
7.) OT Mike Golic was a center-guard at Notre Dame before playing third-team RT as an undrafted rookie this spring. All of that versatility puts him ahead of – at this point – Joe Long and Mike Farrell, two left tackles whom I expect to compete for a spot on the practice squad, because Kelvin Beachum and Guy Whimper would play left tackle ahead of either anyway.
6.) NT Loni Fangupo will turn 28 a few days before training camp, and that’s a bit old for a potential second-year player. But the tenuous status of backup nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu puts Fangupo within legitimate striking distance of a roster spot.
5.) ILB Kion Wilson is also within LSD of a roster spot because of the lack of depth at inside linebacker. Wilson played defense in 8 games for two different teams in two different seasons before sitting out last season, and appears to be ahead of Brian Rolle and practice squad-bound Vince Williams for a spot behind a pair of vulnerable second-teamers.
4.) CB Terry Hawthorne is a rookie who missed spring workouts with a knee injury but even though he’s raw, raw, raw he could dispatch of No. 5 cornerback Josh Victorian with some stellar play on special teams this preseason.
3.) OG John Malecki’s spot here on the list marks the line of demarcation from those without a spot on the two-deep depth chart. Malecki might be just a guy, but he’s a guy who can play center and guard and has been with the Steelers long enough to understand their system. He’s also out of practice squad eligibility.
2.) ILB Marshall McFadden also has a spot (alongside Stevenson Sylvester) behind inside linebackers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons on the two-deep, and led the Steelers in tackles last preseason before getting cut.
1.) OG Justin Cheadle played left guard on the second-team line all spring, and also rotated snapping chores with Malecki once Beachum moved to first-team right tackle. Cheadle gets top billing here because he’s smart and a better athlete than Malecki, who’s the other second-team guard.