The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t find a lot of success with any running back last season not named Najee Harris. The numbers were pretty horrible outside of Harris, and some of that could be attributed to the offensive line play, but a lot of it should be attributed to the fact that Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, and Anthony McFarland just weren’t viable options to give Harris a breather.
Now the Steelers seemingly have moved on from Ballage as he’s hit the free agent market with little noise. The expectations from a decent preseason never translated for him when he was given an opportunity during a real situation. Now granted, he like the rest of the Steelers’ backup running backs weren’t afforded any reasonable chance to get it going either. But when they all entered the game, it usually meant the drive was going to stall. Ballage finished the season with 12 rush attempts for 36 yards. And 13 of those yards came on one carry.
McFarland was expected to make a huge jump from his rookie season to season two under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. McFarland had his best college season at Maryland while Canada was his offensive coordinator and it seemed like the perfect fit. But an injury to McFarland late in the preseason caused him to miss the beginning of the year after he was placed on injured reserve. From there, he only played two games all season. It seems like his inability to play special teams outside of being a returner was the reason for his inactive status each week. Ballage, and Snell both had primary roles on special teams.
Speaking from the South Side yesterday during their pre-draft press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin seemed to drop a little hint that the Steelers could be adding someone to the running back room.
“Both capable young guys, their resumes speak for themselves. Benny has been capable as a backup runner, capable as a teamer. McFarland less so. Less availability there,” Tomlin continued. “But they’ll define their roles with how they perform. And obviously with how they preform against competition. Against competition that is here and maybe competition that’s not here.”
The most important part of the whole quote? ‘Maybe competition that’s not here.’ The Steelers list Trey Edmunds as a running back, but he’s primarily been a full back when he’s been used on offense. But his role has solely been special teams for the past several years. Without counting Edmunds, they only have Harris, McFarland, and Snell for the running back room. They’re certainly going to be adding another name in there.
There are still plenty of viable options on the free agent market. Names like Sony Michel, Melvin Gordon, and Jalen Richard are still available, but those guys are likely going to be able to find teams that will let them carry the ball more than they would in Pittsburgh. That brings me to another issue, and that’s the fact that Tomlin is going to need to evolve in his ways, and not run the wheels off Harris. That part doesn’t seem to be something that he’s concerned with though. Every time he’s been asked about Harris’ workload, he just says that Harris is a competitor and wants the football.
Running a first-round pick into the ground while you’re starting the process of re-tooling isn’t going to be the answer. It doesn’t do you any good to run his wheels off and go 9-8. Keep him healthy and ready to go for when the team is back to a Super Bowl winning caliber team. That likely is another off-season away.
The jury is still out on McFarland, but we have seen what Snell brings to the table as far as a running back only. Adding a solid rookie should be the answer for the seasons during the draft this weekend.