The Pessimist’s Take: Backfield Depth Battle

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 pessimist’s take on the following question.

Question: How safe is running back Fitzgerald Toussaint’s roster spot as the third player on the depth chart?

Under ideal circumstances, it wouldn’t matter much who a team’s third-string running back might be, but recent history has shown that it could matter quite a bit for the Steelers in particular, who have entered each of their last three postseasons without their starting running back. In the case of the past two years, in fact, they have gone without their top two running backs.

Last year, that third running back ended up being Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was not even the team’s initial choice for practice squad running back. He was, in fact, the sixth different running back to spend time on the 53-man roster.

It could have gone differently, however, had, perhaps, Cameron Stingily not gotten injured in the preseason opener. The Steelers liked him, and he seemed to be in the running to make the team as the third running back to start the season while Le’Veon Bell was suspended, but the injury made it impossible.

Stingily is back again this year after making the team as a rookie minicamp tryout, and he has slimmed down 30 pounds to improve his speed and agility. Another tryout signing, Brandon Brown-Dukes has caught the eyes of a couple of onlookers as well.

Then there is Daryl Richardson, whom the Steelers signed as a Reserve/Future player after the season ended. A 2012 seventh-round draft pick of the Rams, he ran for 475 yards and 98 carries his rookie season while adding 24 receptions for another 163 yards. His role was reduced in year two and he has been bouncing around practice squads and offseason rosters since.

As for Toussaint, while the Steelers do like his diverse skill set—namely, the one that he showed in the Wildcard game—his yards per carry figure left much to be desired, and he struggled to catch the ball in the Divisional round, where he also lost a critical fumble.

While Toussaint will no doubt be favored to retain his roster spot—and it is possible that they even carry four, especially with Bell returning from injury—it would be erroneous to assume that he will not have legitimate competition for that role this summer.

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