By: Leif Adams
In my second installment of this series I am moving to another position of strength for the Steelers in running back. Le’Veon Bell has established himself as the best all purpose back in the NFL. He is a dual threat running or receiving out of the backfield and is a match-up nightmare for defensive coordinators. He is the obvious starter going into the season barring injury or suspension. That being said there is a few key battles going on behind Bell with a few interesting offseason moves by the Steelers.
First move was not re-signing DeAngelo Williams. DWill a fan favorite had more than served his purpose the last few seasons coming in during injury or suspension of Bell and not having a noticeable drop-off in production out of the running game. But last year Williams did seem to lose a step only managing 3.5 ypc an entire yard less than he did in 2015. Also, his long run was a measly 17 years last year while in 2015 he had two runs of 53 and 55 respectably. In my opinion the Steelers front office made the right move allowing Williams to pursue his pro wrestling career as father time catches everyone eventually.
The second noteworthy move would be drafting hometown favorite James Conner out of Pitt in the 3rd (105th overall) round. Conner looked to be a very high pick after his Sophomore season having nearly 1,800 yards with 26 TD’s and average 5.9 yards a crack. Conner looked to improve on his monster sophomore campaign going into his junior year when he was diagnosed with cancer. This stunning and life changing turn of events put Conner’s NFL dreams on hold while he fought for his life. Conner prevailed through a life challenge most cannot even grasp. He came back after he medical redshirted and had a very productive season with running for nearly 1,100 yards at 5.1 ypc and getting into the end zone 16 times. Conner also showed better hands hauling in 21 receptions for 302 yards and 4 more scores. Conner also stated he didn’t feel like he was back in football shape until the last 4-5 games of the season. In his last 5 regular season games Conner average 6.3 ypc for 529 yards and 9 TD’s while catching 5 balls for 102 yards and two more scores. If Conner was just getting back into football shape at the end of the season he could end up as the backup to Bell and even pushing for some playing time to keep Bell fresh for what we hope to be a Super Bowl run.
The other offseason move was the Steelers signing veteran Kniles Davis from the Chiefs. Davis whom has been a special teams ace as a return man has never really hit his stride carrying the rock as a RB. In his NFL tenure he has a total of 805 rushing yards while averaging 3.2 ypc. Not the kind of stats and average you’d expect from a guy who runs a legit 4.3 forty yard dash. But the Steelers I feel brought him as competition and to maybe bolster the return game if he makes the 53 man roster. His deal is a straight up 775k contract with no guaranteed money. So he will be motivated to work hard this summer.
Last years not so forgotten man after a costly playoff fumble Fitzgerald Toussaint will be preparing to keep Kniles Davis off the roster. Statistically speaking last year was Toussaint’s best as a pro with 58 rushing yards on 14 carries. He did have some return man duty but didn’t really knock anyone’s socks off. From what I can tell is Toussaint is a decent utility player but not going to excel anywhere on the field. He does have a good understanding of the playbook and is able to help on special teams so right now he has a slight lead over Davis. But this #3 and likely final true RB position roster spot to me will be one of the more intriguing camp battles.
Behind Toussaint are seasonal camp body Brandon Brown Dukes, journeyman camp body Trey Williamson, and my dark horse to take the #3 spot in Azusa Pacific alma mater of one Christian Okoye whom Terrell Watson crushed all Okoye’s records. Watson is a legit 4.5 40 back at 6-1 240lbs. He is pretty upright and not a lot of wiggle but he runs north/south and when he has a full head of steam it is not easy to take him down. I feel he has the ability to be the #3 RB and be the #2 FB and if he can show some special teams ability I think he makes the roster and even has a shot to earn a hat on Sunday. He’s not going to be returning balls but if he can use that speed and body to hustle and make some tackles I feel he sticks on the roster. Watson has a lot of challenges in front of him with two veterans and one being established on the team but I like what I saw from Watson and I am excited to see how he performs in camp and preseason.