By Christopher DiMarino
The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a lightning bolt when they selected Chris Rainey in the 5th of the 2012 NFL draft. Harnessing that lightning will be an arduous task, but one that will also breed excitement throughout Steeler Nation. How better to forecast his potential as a Steeler then by looking into his past successes. He made his name as a Gator at Florida, and was a centerpiece for their team from 2008 to 2011 and had a couple years of grooming under Urban Meyer, who has produced a multitude of NFL stars. Combine that with the yards he accumulated over his career and his wide range of skills and you might wonder how he slipped to the 5th round. I think the shell shock of his 5\’8 size and failure to exceed excessively at any one position might have diminished his value.
Rainey has no limit to his potential. In fact, the speed and agility he exhibited in college might drive him to huge success in the NFL. Although he is a running back, he will translate to a special teamer/ change of pace back in the pros. So while he likely can\’t become an Adrian Peterson, he can become a Darren Sproles. That may seem like an insult but I think everyone can agree that having a Sproles on the roster would be awesome. He single handedly replaced 2nd overall pick Reggie Bush (who was a bit of a bust), and helped Drew Brees set the record for passing yards in a season.
Now to the stats. I\’ll keep this relatively brief because Rainey was a pretty well known commodity in college. At the beginning of his career he was more singularly focused as a running back. In 2008 and 2009, he was just short of 100 carries in each of those years with 4 and 5 touchdowns respectively. In both years he had a monstrous YPC of over 6.5 and a long rush of over 75 yards. He slowly began mixing it up in 2009 by going up from 3 receptions and 1 return in 2008 to 10 receptions and 9 returns.
2010 was a bit of an transition year for him as he dropped significantly in carries (51), longest rush (51) and rushing touchdowns (2). He did increase his ulterior production as a receiver (25 receptions) and returns (17). 2011 was his masterpiece year as he had highs in rushing attempts and yards (171, 861) receiving yards (381) and returns (21). Teammates Jeff Demps and Trey Burton factored into the poor rushing performance of Rainey in 2010 and it likely was because coaches played the hot back. However, a coaching change and a new found dedication to perform likely factored into Rainey\’s great 2011 season.
A big negative on stats sheets of Rainey is that a majority of his yards were in blowout games, and came when his team was a ahead by a good margin. Not too surprisingly a lot of his stats came on early downs as well. While he was involved in the passing game, it was typically on early downs. This stat does more damage than you might think. While he will be considered a change of pace type back that can get reps on early downs, his value in the passing game will drive his participation on 3rd downs. There is already a large knock against his size and how it will affect his ability to block in the backfield on passing downs. The last thing that a good at everything, master of none needs is another knock that will make him less effective at tricking the defense.
If it was a perfect world, Rainey would want to improve his blocking and be a back that can earn his stay in the mix. But reality might dictate that the defense knows exactly what he will do when he\’s on the field. The key is that knowing what he might do and stopping him are two different tasks entirely. With the Steelers recent addition of weapons to the offense and how the OLine\’s been shored up in the draft, he might be the final touch to Todd Haley\’s masterpiece offense.
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