By CJ Lester
One of the biggest needs in the 2020 off-season for the Pittsburgh Steelers is arguably the running back position. I know I know; how dare I not think they are fine with former Pro Bowler and fan favorite James Conner as the lead horse? James Conner has been injury prone in his first three seasons in the NFL and let’s face it, the best ability is availability. Conner had a disappointing season due to injury notching just 464 yards on 116 carries. Let’s take a look at the depth chart behind James Conner.
Benny Snell Jr.
A 4th round draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Snell shows flashes of being a great running back and grows stronger as a game goes on. He has a lot of potential, but no one can tell the future. It would be ideal to see a 2nd year jump if Snell is able to earn an increase in touches next season. Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin always looks for major strides to be taken from players in there 2nd year. Snell could be in line for more touches to spell often injured James Conner. Snell ended the season with a 3.9 yards per carry average, totaling 426 yards.
Samuels filled in great two seasons ago when Conner went down with another injury and Le’Veon Bell was making a statement by sitting out the year. Samuels can be used in many ways and excels as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He fills the void left behind by Bell in that aspect. Samuels finished 2nd on the team in receptions with 47 catches and a total of 305 yards which ranked 4th on the team. He also rushed for 175 yards on 66 carries.
Kerrith Whyte Jr.
There is an intriguing candidate for snaps in the backfield next season and that candidate is Kerrith Whyte Jr. Whyte was signed last season away from the Chicago Bears practice squad due to (and you guessed it) another James Conner injury. Whyte exhibited speed and elusiveness in his few snaps taken this past season and more importantly for his shot at the 53 man roster next season, he showed tremendous skill as a kick returner. Whyte Jr. tallied 122 rushing yards on 24 carries for an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
The last running back on the depth chart that was on the active roster last season that could still potentially be there next year is Trey Edmunds. He is a contributor on special teams, notching his first career interception on a fake punt against the Los Angeles Rams last season. He also tallied 6 tackles on special teams. However, he didn’t contribute much in the backfield this past season due to his position on the depth chart. He had 22 carries for 92 yards.
Looking ahead to free agency and the NFL Draft, the Steelers should really look to add a dynamic running back or more of a depth piece to compete for a roster spot. There are a few things that need to happen first. The Steelers will need to make some roster cuts to save on the cap space in order to re-sign OLB Bud Dupree. They will need to cut Mark Barron, Ramon Foster, and Anthony Chickillo. They will also need to decline Vance McDonald’s option and look to possibly add a TE in free agency or the early rounds of the Draft. After some restructuring of contracts and extensions for players like Cam Heyward, the Steelers will have some wiggle room to add some pieces.
Possible Free Agent Targets
The Steelers do not have a lot of options to address the running game issue due to the salary cap. They are going to have to restructure some guys and cut some others to even make it manageable to re-sign OLB Bud Dupree. With this as a concern, there are a few options at RB the Steelers could consider. Guys like Peyton Barber, Kenyan Drake, CJ Prosise, Bilal Powell, or Chris Thompson. One of these running backs should come cheaper than most, and they would add some depth to the running back room to compete for carries. We are all very wishfully thinking about Derrick Henry in a Steelers uniform, but that will never happen. Don’t get your hopes up people!
Possible Additions through the NFL Draft
A dynamic running back could be available in the 2nd round of the Draft when we make our first pick and I would love to see the Steelers jump on the chance to add someone like DeAndre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, or JK Dobbins. If they choose to wait until a little later in the next round of the Draft to address the issue, they could grab someone like Zach Moss, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, or Joshua Kelley. If the Steelers are not active in free agency in regards to the running back position, they should definitely use one of their first two picks in rounds 2 or 3 to select a running back that can make the offense much harder to defend.
What do you think the Steelers should do to address the need at running back? Let us know in the comments below!