Running back has been one of the most discussed positions for the Steelers as the draft approaches. Will Jonathan Taylor or J.K. Dobbins be available at 49? If not, are Cam Akers or Clyde Edwards-Helaire worth taking at 49? What about drafting a rotational running back later on?
To answer question one, one of them probably will be but there are no guarantees. Question two’s answer is yes, both of those players are running backs who are capable of being do-it-all, featured backs in the NFL. And the answer to question three is no, the Steelers should not draft a non-featured back in the later rounds.
Here is why.
As we know, the Steelers employed a running back by committee last year. This was partially because James Conner struggled to stay healthy, again. When he’s available, he is a top 15 back in the league.
He’s very hard to bring down, has become a good receiver out of the backfield, and is easily the team’s best running back in pass protection. The running backs behind him, though, all have their shortcomings.
To deal with those shortcomings, the team had no choice but to carry several running backs, each with a different role.
Benny Snell had a promising rookie campaign. Though his speed in the open field isn’t top-notch, he runs like a truck and is very hard to bring down.
Snell broke a tackle every 15 carries last year and averaged 2.8 yards after contact per rush. Both of those numbers are better than Conner’s in the same categories. The problem with Snell is that he offers very little in the passing game, both as a receiver and in pass protection.
Jaylen Samuels is a good receiving back, but that’s about it. He isn’t much of a runner and might be even worse than Snell in pass protection.
Kerrith Whyte was a fun wrinkle to the Steelers offense last year with his speed, but he’s just that- a wrinkle, not a featured back. When you combine the skills of these running backs with Conner, you have a pretty solid running back committee.
That’s why the Steelers shouldn’t be drafting a late-round running back. They don’t need another back to add to their committee. Their committee is fine. With James Conner’s contract up after this year, the team might be planning on moving on.
If that’s the case, then it’s clear the featured back of the future isn’t on the team, at least based on what we’ve seen so far. Then, it would make perfect sense for them to use their first pick of the draft on a top running back. But if running back by committee is the plan again for 2020 and they want to bring Conner back in 2021, drafting a mid-tier running back just wouldn’t make sense.
There are other needs that are much more pressing for this team than a fourth running back to add to the group.