By Jeremy Hritz
The Pittsburgh Steelers could possibly be interested in University of Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead as was reported on Steelers Depot on Saturday. Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer indicated through Twitter that Pead had received “strong interest” from the Steelers. With the injury to Rashard Mendenhall and the unproven nature of the other Steelers’ running backs outside of Isaac Redman, it is possible that Pead could be a target in this year’s draft.
At the NFL Combine this weekend, Pead measured in at 5’10 and weighed 197 pounds, which is lighter than any running back currently on the Steelers’ roster. Pead ran his 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds, recorded a vertical jump of 33 inches, and completed the three-cone drill in 6.95 seconds. He did not participate in the bench press test at the combine. While Pead’s numbers at the combine were good, they were not stellar for a running back. However, those numbers, along with his smallish stature, are not indicative of how productive he was in college and at this year’s Senior Bowl.
The 22-year-old Pead from Columbus, Ohio has always been prolific runner. During his senior year of high school at Eastmoor Academy, Pead rushed for 2204 yards and 39 touchdowns. During his four-year career at the University of Cincinnati, Pead eclipsed the 1000-yard mark twice and finished his career with 3288 rushing yards, 87 total receptions, and 33 total touchdowns. Pead achieved a 6.5-yard or better rushing average per attempt in three seasons, with his lowest still a quality 5.3 yards per carry in 2011. At Cincinnati, Pead did not have a history as a return man with only 11 total returns in his career, ten punt returns and only one kickoff return.
Surprisingly, at this year’s Senior Bowl, Pead earned Most Valuable Player honors as the result of his returning efforts. In his two punt returns, Pead gained 98 yards, the longest for 60 yards. His rushing performance was not as dominating as his return game, as he finished with 36 yards on eight carries, the longest for 18 yards. Pead also hauled in one pass.
Pead is ranked as a top-six back in this year’s draft class and is described as having fluid lateral movement and a penchant for running powerfully up the middle in spite of his size. He is also praised for his hands and ability to catch the ball in traffic. In addition to the knock on his size, several pundits have made note of some maturity issues, something that the Steelers will most certainly exhaustingly investigate to avoid incurring a distraction.
While impossible to know how a player like Pead will translate to the NFL, there is no doubt that his skill set would provide an excellent change of pace to the running of Mendenhall and Redman. With Mewelde Moore most likely not returning to the team, Pead could give the Steelers a quick and elusive third-down option not only as a runner, but also as a pass catcher out of the backfield. And while not seasoned in the return game, his performance in the Senior Bowl could be a preview of dormant capabilities.
With much uncertainty surrounding the running back position as a result of injuries and inexperience, drafting Pead in the later rounds may be an excellent move for the Steelers. It could be an investment that produces many great returns.