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The Optimist’s Take: Running Back Depth

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Should the Steelers be comfortable with their running back depth?

As it currently stands, the Steelers have three running backs on their offseason roster that finished the season on their 53-man roster, including all three who started a game. Those three running backs are, of course, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Bell is the lead dog, it goes without saying, even though he was limited to just six games last year, first due to suspension, and then to a torn MCL that landed him on injured reserve halfway through the season.

The fourth-year back is still working on rehabilitating his knee, as should go without saying. Williams also finished the season with a foot injury that kept him out of both of the Steelers’ playoffs games, which prompted them to rely upon Toussaint, the second-year former undrafted free agent who spent most of the season on the practice squad after being released by the Ravens.

We already know what Bell can do when he is up to speed, and he showed that during his six games last year after bouncing back from a knee injury that kept him out the 2014 playoffs. When he is on the field, he rarely comes off.

And we also saw what Williams could do, rushing for over 900 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 starts, also posting career highs in receptions and receiving yards. There were questions over whether or not he could do that as a 32-year-old back, so it would be wise not to question him again.

Toussaint is an interesting player whose numbers don’t really seem to reflect his abilities. Of course, his season was defined by that crucial fumble in the Divisional round that proved to be the turning point, but the Steelers didn’t let that define him, as they made sure to go right back to him the next chance that they got.

They were not forced to turn to Toussaint. They also had Jordan Todman, who has a fair deal more NFL experience, and even a start or two under his belt, but as the season progressed, they chose to go to Toussaint over him, probably because they thought he was more equipped as a pass protector.

Though his numbers might not show it—he was the victim of some rather poor line play—I liked what I saw from him as a runner, and he looked to have some room for development as a receiver, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Steelers don’t address the running back depth during the offseason in a major way that would remove Toussaint from the pole position for a roster spot. Which might not be a bad idea considering their lack of late-round draft picks and dwindling salary cap.

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