The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with nearly a couple dozen players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents, but did not tender their one restricted free agent, who signed elsewhere.
Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at tight end, tackle, linebacker, and the defensive line, but suffered several free agency losses, chiefly at cornerback and linebacker, and suffered yet another key retirement in the process. There were no significant player releases, and no contracts were restructured. They still have six unrestricted free agents who remain unsigned.
The organization has been clear throughout recent weeks that they have essentially wrapped up all meaningful free agent activities, with the focus turning to the draft, so now is a good time to take a look back and see where each position started at the beginning of the process and where it is now leading up to the draft.
Position: Running Back
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason additions: 3
Offseason losses: 1
Le’Veon Bell: 2015 was a frustrating season for Bell, who began it serving a two-game suspension for foolish youthful indiscretion the year before. But he hit the ground running when he returned to the lineup and carried the load during his six games. A serious knee injury sidelined him the rest of the year, and the hope is that he will be ready to start the 2016 season opener.
DeAngelo Williams: The veteran Williams had a renaissance season spelling Bell while he was out, tying for the league lead with 11 rushing touchdowns and rushing for over 900 yards, catching more passes for more receiving yards than ever. But the hope is that they won’t need his services nearly as much in his age-33 season.
Fitzgerald Toussaint: Toussaint was added to the practice squad early in the year, shortly after the roster was finalized, so he came in around the time Todman did. He also evidently outworked, or at least outperformed Todman during that span of time in terms of doing the small things that would lead coaches to trust him, because he remains on the roster as the team’s likely third back entering 2016.
Rajion Neal (Reserve/Future): An undrafted player in 2014, Rajion Neal was signed to the practice squad after Toussaint was promoted to the 53-man roster. He’s bounced around four other practice squads previously. He was signed to a Reserve/Future contract after the season.
Abou Toure (Reserve/Future): After Williams’ injury, Abou Toure was also added to the Steelers’ practice squad in January. Another big back like Neal, Toure was signed as a rookie minicamp invite by the Colts, then spent time on the Cardinals’ practice squad. He was given a Reserve/Future contract as well.
Daryl Richardson (Reserve/Future): Daryl Richardson was a seventh-round pick from Bell’s draft class as a smaller back with explosive traits. He rushed for 475 yards on 98 carries as a rookie, surpassing Isaiah Pead on the Rams’ depth chart—Pead was briefly on the Steelers roster in 2015—but by 2014 he was bouncing around practice squads. He has shown a propensity to be a receiving option as well.
Players Lost/Not Retained:
Jordan Todman (Colts): Signed to the 53-man roster after failing to make the Panthers’ roster, Todman served as the team’s backup to Williams during Bell’s suspension, and briefly in that role again after his injury, but gave way to Toussaint later in the season. He then backed up Toussaint in the playoffs. He signed with the Colts this offseason in spite of his minimal resume last year.
Notes and Draft Outlook: Also in the equation last year was Dri Archer, of course, a slash player whose primary role on the team devolved into that of kick returner after he struggled to contribute on offense—and the team struggled to find a role for him. He was released mid-season in his second year.
With Todman gone, Bell is entering what is currently the final year of his contract and coming off a significant knee injury. Williams is clearly winding his career down and in the last year of his contract as well. Toussaint may be good enough for a roster spot, but with a view toward the future, unless they view him as a long-term reserve, it’s very possible that the team looks at adding a running back somewhere during the mid to late rounds of the draft.