Predicting Which Running Backs Make the Team in 2020

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By: Zach Herbaugh
SteelerNation.com

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been a franchise that prides itself on a successful run game. From Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis, to recent running backs such as Willie Parker and Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers have consistently had a great run game to complement their quarterback. In 2019, the Steelers run game took a significant hit and was in the bottom five in the NFL in terms of rush yards per game, rushing yards per attempt, and rushing touchdowns. The Steelers now have seven running backs on their roster and we are going to discuss which running backs we think will make the team in 2020.

 

James Conner

Conner is a sure-fire lock to make the roster in 2020. A fourth-year player from the University of Pittsburgh, Conner has been plagued by injuries throughout his NFL career. However, in 2018 Conner was able to put together his best season as a pro and commence his great year with his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Conner has proven he can be a productive three-down back and will be the Steelers go-to guy in 2020, but his health is a big concern. Going into his contract year, Conner will have one last chance to prove himself before he hits free agency in the summer of 2021.

 

Benny Snell

Snell is another lock to make the Steelers roster in 2020. In just his second year, Snell has already proven to be a significant player in the NFL. In limited time last year, Snell put together a respectable rookie season and provided a great building block going into his sophomore year. Snell has taken the advice of the Steelers coaching staff and truly transformed his body over the offseason. He has come to camp trim and in shape and looking to provide a significant option behind Conner as the Steelers second string running back.

 

Anthony McFarland

McFarland was the Steelers fourth-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. McFarland did not play full-time during his career at the University of Maryland, but he shined when he was given the opportunity. With an abbreviated offseason and little opportunity to show his abilities to the coaching staff, McFarland will likely not see the field very much this season. The Steelers obviously liked McFarland enough to draft him relatively high, but with Conner and Snell in front of him on the depth chart, it’s not probable he will get a lot of reps barring an injury to either of the aforementioned players. McFarland is likely to make the team, but his contributions will be sparse in 2020.

 

Jaylen Samuels

Samuels appears to be the odd man out in the Steelers running back room for 2020. A fifth-round pick in 2017, Samuels will most likely not be playing for the Steelers in 2020. He has created many great memories for Steelers fans in his two seasons, most specifically his great game against the New England Patriots in 2018, but the running back room has become crowded with players who offer more than Samuels can. Samuels has always been a great option as a pass catcher, but his ability to run the ball and pass block has made him a liability as a premier player. The Steelers could likely get a late-round draft pick if they are able to deal him to a team at the right time, but don’t look for Samuels to be on the roster come final cuts in 2020.

 

Wendell Smallwood

Smallwood is a wildcard for the Steelers in 2020. A proven commodity in the NFL, Smallwood has spent his career as a situational player with the Philadelphia Eagles. Smallwood has a lot of abilities as a 3rd-down change of pace back to compliment a starter. The Steelers likely signed Smallwood as an insurance in case someone got injured or was placed on the COVID-19/Reserve List. It’s hard to tell how the Steelers will use him in the offense without any preseason games, but I liken his skill set to McFarland. The Steelers typically don’t keep more than three running backs on their roster, so Smallwood will likely not make the final cut, but I believe he does stick around on the practice squad in case of injury to the top three guys.

 

Trey Edmunds

Edmunds has been a solid contributor for the Steelers during his tenure with the team. Most notably his interception last year against the Los Angeles Rams, Edmunds has always been someone you can count on as a significant special teams player. Due to injury, Edmunds has gotten a little playing time in the backfield but has not shown anything that makes me think he can make the team in 2020. I know Mike Tomlin loves having siblings on his football team, but this sibling tandem is likely to be broken up in 2020. With an expanded practice squad, Edmunds might have a chance to stick around as a practice player, but he won’t make the final roster going into 2020.

 

Kerrith Whyte

Whyte showed significant explosion last year in his limited role, but his inability to break tackles and pass block really hindered his playing time. Also very similar in stature to McFarland and Smallwood, Whyte’s role on the Steelers is better suited for the previously mentioned players. Whyte did show a spark in 2020, but he offers very little special teams help to a team that requires special teams play from their backups. Whyte does have the potential to be a good NFL running back, but he may have better luck in a program with fewer options at the position.

 

The 2020 season is likely to require a lot of depth at significant positions for teams. The Steelers have a lot of depth right now, but it’s unlikely they keep more than three running backs on the active roster. With Conner, Snell, and McFarland being the three likely candidates to make the active roster, this means cuts and trades are likely to occur soon. Smallwood and Edmunds have a good chance of making the practice squad and being called up if injuries or COVID-19/Reserve List additions occur. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely Whyte and Samuels make the final cut for the active roster or practice squad for the Steelers in 2020.

 

What running backs do you think make the team? What are your expectations for Conner this season? Sound off in the comments below!

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