Assessing The Steelers Alternatives: Running Back

As I’ve read through the site, I’ve seen many fans and fellow writers on social media express their desire for the Pittsburgh Steelers to bring in free agents to provide depth at a few key positions. This got me thinking. Are there really players available right now that fit what the Steelers need and would sign for the veteran minimum? In the spirit of that, I’ve decided to take a look at a few positions people have expressed a desire to add depth to through the current free agent crop. Consider this an exercise as it gives you an idea of the overall standing of available free agents and why some haven’t been signed yet. Hopefully, this will also make readers understand why Pittsburgh has the players they do right now instead of some of the available free agents.

With that said, let’s start with a heavily debated position—running back.

Steven Jackson– We begin with arguably the biggest name at the position available in former All-Pro, Steven Jackson. Jackson enters free agency after being cut by the Atlanta Falcons during this offseason. Obviously, the first concern with Jackson is his age. At age 31, the wheels are starting to fall off. In addition, he only averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 47.1 yards per game. Despite that, he was reliable committing zero turnovers in 15 games. He also played a factor catching out of the backfield with 27 receptions. While Jackson may be interesting, Pittsburgh already brought in a player at a similar state in his career with the signing of Deangelo Williams. Also, there’s a very good chance Jackson wants to compete for a starting role or a high number of snaps, which would be tough due to Le’Veon Bell, Williams and Dri Archer all most likely taking the majority of the snaps. Unless an injury occurs to one of the aforementioned backs there isn’t enough opportunity to bring Jackson into the fold.

Knowshon Moreno-Last year, Moreno started off well for the Miami Dolphins rushing for 4.8 yards per carry, 148 yards and a touchdown in three total games before tearing his ACL among other injuries. In terms of reasoning why Moreno wouldn’t work in black and gold, it’s similar to Jackson’s. Add in the injuries and it makes Moreno a tough sell. The one redeeming quality about him though is his pass block ability. However, if Moreno is going to get a chance, it’ll be somewhere that gives him a good number of snaps something the Steelers can’t promise.

Chris Johnson– Father time has hit Chris Johnson hard. Honestly, I almost forgot he rushed for 2,000 yards once upon a time.  Last year with the New York Jets, Johnson’s numbers plummeted from his usual output, but he still was productive rushing for 663 yards and 4.3 yards per carry in 16 games. He also had only one fumble. At this stage in Johnson’s career it’s hard for me to see Johnson doing any better than a supporting role. Of course, his biggest strength in his speed still exists, but not to the level that a good scat back possesses. Add in the off-field issues and Johnson simply doesn’t fit with the black and gold—though I doubt many fans were clamoring for him.

Ahmad Bradshaw– I’ll go on record by saying out of everyone on this list I like Bradshaw the most. Yes, he may get injured every year, but when he’s healthy, he’s an excellent running back who you can never count out evidenced by his performance last season with the Indianapolis Colts. After taking over for the incumbent Trent Richardson, Bradshaw rushed for 425 yards on 90 attempts in 10 games and caught 38 passes for 300 yards and six touchdowns. That said, the multiple injuries and off-field issues (which may get him suspended) culminate into a player Pittsburgh would rather not take a chance on.

Pierre Thomas– Thomas is one of those rare running backs that can do it all. Whether he’s running outside the tackles; running between the tackles, catching the ball out of the backfield, playing special teams, or blocking in pass protection Thomas has been known as an effective player that could wear many hats. Even as he entered the dreaded 30’s for a running back he still was somewhat effective, more so in the passing game catching 45 passes last season for the New Orleans Saints. As far as rushing, he provides a pretty average level of ability at this stage in his career as he rushed for 222 yards in eleven games last season. However, his versatility is interesting, but I’m not sure if bringing in a 2nd veteran back is the best idea. If Pittsburgh were to bring in another vet, Thomas would probably make the most sense.

Leon Washington– At this stage in his career, Washington’s major contribution most likely will come on special teams as the last few seasons have seen his rushing numbers plummet, but his special teams numbers have stayed average as he totaled over 1,000 all-purpose yards with the Tennessee Titans last season. While the Steelers could use some competition at kick returner, they most likely will try and get Dri Archer the majority of snaps at return man as they attempt to transition Antonio Brown out of the role (hopefully). Overall though, Washington just doesn’t make much sense when Archer provides more potential and speed as a returner and running back.

Lache Seastrunk– I actually saw this one teased on social media when Seastrunk was cut by the Tennessee Titans earlier this month (though I can’t remember who teased it). In terms of how he’d fit? Not really sure. He hasn’t played in the NFL yet so I can’t actually evaluate him. Overall though, Seastrunk is still young and if Cameron Stingily and Ross Scheuerman don’t push Josh Harris then Seastrunk would make sense due to his level of potential out of the available free agent running backs.

Best of the Rest:

Daniel Thomas- A disappointment so far in the NFL, Thomas is still available on the market. His ineffectiveness in his career makes the likely hood of ending up in black and gold small (and that’s a good thing in my opinion).

Joe McKnight- Mostly a special teams player throughout his career, McKnight doesn’t bring enough to the table for Pittsburgh to consider him.

Peyton Hillis– The former Madden cover athlete has fallen off a cliff athletically since his breakout season a few years ago with the Cleveland Browns. He’s become a plodder and wouldn’t make much sense for Pittsburgh to bring in.

Ronnie Brown- Once a pro bowl running back with the Miami Dolphins, multiple injuries and father time have limited Brown as a running back. It probably wouldn’t be a smart decision to bring the rapidly declining back into the fold.

Ben Tate- Yeah, how’d that work out last time?

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