The Pittsburgh Steelers knocked one out of the park when they selected running back, Najee Harris, in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Steelers’ well-rounded threat had a record-breaking rookie campaign behind an incredibly sub-par offensive line last season.
He totaled 1,200 rushing yards on 307 carries and 7 touchdowns. Harris not only proved he is already one of the best running backs in football, he proved that he is extremely capable of being a receiver out of the backfield as well. Harris finished the year with 74 receptions (second on the team) for 467 yards and 3 touchdowns.
That’s almost 400 touches for a rookie! It’s unheard of, but it speaks volumes of the running back’s ability to put the team on his back! However, the last thing the Steelers want to do is run a superstar running back into the ground with overuse.
Who was second on the team in touches at the running back position in 2021? Benny Snell finished with an extremely distant 36 carries for 98 yards.
Snell has faced a lot of criticism for his play, but should he? In a recent article from The Athletic, writer Mark Kaboly brought up this question:
“Some football players get a bad reputation that’s warranted,” Kaboly stated in the article. “Some get one for no reason at all, and it follows them everywhere they go. Their reputation — right or wrong — precedes them, if you will.
Benny Snell Jr. is someone who has a reputation, but not much in the way of facts to back it up.”
That reputation Kaboly mentions is the criticism that I was referring to. A lot of people think that Snell isn’t a competent NFL running back.
Snell doesn’t care what you think and he exhibited that with his interactions with the media this off-season:
“I blocked you on Twitter,” Snell said to one reporter. He declined to speak to another and told another sarcastically, “Nice YouTube video.”
“Even though Snell hasn’t lived up to the “Snell Yeah” nickname, the perception of his career has become distorted,” Kaboly reiterated in his article. “When Snell has had a chance to play more than a series or two in a game, he has succeeded. When he’s been on the field to take a series or two, he has failed.
The statistics back that up, and yet the common belief is that Snell has done nothing during this three-year career with the Steelers.”
Snell is a running back that gets better as the game goes on, the more touches he gets, it’s like he has to power up in order to get going. Kaboly backs up the narrative by showing an image with Snell’s stats when he gets 12 or more carries in a game.
“That’s 16 carries for 65 yards per game (4.05 yards per carry),” Kaboly mentions while defending Snell. “Subtract the Washington game, which was played on a COVID-19-shortened week, and Snell averaged 17 carries for 72 yards per game and 4.2 yards per rush when he carried the ball 12 times or more.”
Maybe, the Steelers just aren’t the best for Snell’s services or maybe the team will lighten Harris’ load this season, but 12 or more carries per game? I’m not sure they’ll do that and how beneficial to the team would that be?
In order for Snell to be successful as a running back, the stats show he needs more carries.
“I think I did OK when I got a chance,” Snell said. “You never know when those chances are going to come, so you have to be ready for it when it comes. You just don’t get a lot of chances in this league. You have to be ready for them.”
If the carries are divvied out next season with Snell getting that amount of touches, that could bode well for Snell’s career in Pittsburgh, but would it bode well for the Steelers offense? Or would the team be better off by signing a guy that can come in for a few snaps per game to spell Harris in that way?
“But they’ll define their roles with how they perform,” Tomlin said referring to Snell and RB Anthony McFarland Jr. “And obviously with how they preform against competition. Against competition that is here and maybe competition that’s not here.”
However, the team elected not to add a running back via the 2022 NFL Draft. They did, however, add two undrafted free agent running backs, Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren. But was Tomlin talking about the draft or foreshadowing to a possible free agent pickup like Justin Jackson?
If the team adds a player like Jackson, that could mark the end of the Snell experiment with the Black and Gold.