What To Do At RB

Sports Illustrated

By: Jonathan Clark, @jonclark_7
SteelerNation.com

After posting a Pro Bowl season in 2018, all of Steeler Nation was ready to call James Conner our new franchise RB. After off-season contract disputes with Le’veon Bell, the star RB decided he was going to holdout the 2018 season in hopes of earning more compensation than was previously offered by the Pittsburgh Steelers, which put head coach Mike Tomlin’s preachings of the next man up mentality to the ultimate test. As a second year guy, Conner was going to have to step up, carry the load and be the workhorse for this football team. He did exactly that. Paired in the backfield with Jaylen Samuels, James caught 55 passes for 497 yards, rushing the ball 215 times for 973 yards, and scoring 13 total touchdowns. Unfortunately, we all know how that season finished, but Conner certainly did his part in a season where a lot of eyes were on him. After his injury prone season last year, there are still questions about what the Steelers will do at running back for the foreseeable future, and being that the Steelers have drafted running back three of out the past four years, the answer to that question could be right in front of us.

Depth at any position is essential, but when you draft the same position in back to back drafts, fans may take that as the team is trying to tell us all something. In drafting Benny Snell Jr. in 2019, the Steelers added another workhorse back and much needed depth to the roster, at a position that needed just that. While on the field last year, Snell ran the ball 108 times for 426 yards and 2 touchdowns, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Snell played in 13 of 16 games, missing three weeks to an injured knee that seemed to be bothering him all season. Pushing through injury and limited playing time, Snell had three solid rushing performances last year against the likes of the Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens, rushing for over 75 yards in each of them. Snell is a rough and tough football player. He seems to be the kind of back that fights for every yard he gets. Although he doesn’t seem to be as versatile as Conner is out of the passing game, the way 24 runs the ball will make up for that and more. When listening to coach Tomlin talk about this guy, his confidence level raises through the roof, even calling his style of play “Benny Snell Football”. In my opinion, there is a clear cut future for Benny Snell Jr. in a Steelers uniform.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is a name to watch out for. During his two years at the University of Maryland out of the Big Ten (2018, 2019), this year’s fourth round pick ran the ball 245 times for 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns, although much of this was accounted for in 2018. Injuries would be the one thing holding McFarland back. His combine profile states that many scouts believe he would have gone much higher if a high-ankle sprain didn’t derail most of his 2019 campaign. This leads me to believe that we might have gotten a steal in the fourth round this year. McFarland’s upside can’t go unnoticed, and I think is the sole reason why the Steelers drafted him this year. Many believe his strength is his dynamic acceleration and quick build up speed he has to get outside of defenders faster than most. His 4.44 40-time in this past NFL Combine seemed to back that up. After watching tape, McFarland’s speed excites me in itself. He seems to have a switch that he can flick on that can accelerate him to a whole other level. He is incredibly explosive and a dynamic guy out of the backfield, not only in rushing situations, but also out of the passing game. He has great vision, he seems to make good decisions before he fills the gap, and has big play type ability every time the ball is in his hands. With the transition of the NFL being more of a speed game, this type of running back seems to be the perfect compliment to a guy like a James Conner or a Benny Snell Jr. The running game is changing and the Steelers are moving right along with it.

 

What do you think the Steelers best options for RB are for the foreseeable future? Let us know what you think, comment below!

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