The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with well over a dozen players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents, and also tendered their two restricted free agents.
Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at wide receiver, defensive line, running back, and cornerback, but suffered several free agency losses, chiefly at wide receiver and linebacker, and suffered yet another retirement in the process. There was one significant player release, and no contracts were restructured. One franchise tag and one major extension also transpired. They still have four 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: 8
Offseason additions: 5
Offseason losses: 2
Le’Veon Bell: I hear this guy is pretty good. Last season he posted the third-highest yards-per-game average in NFL history. But he is coming off another injury. At least there is no word of any suspensions looming. Bell is currently under the franchise tag, though a long-term deal will likely be attempted, if not reached, later in the offseason.
Fitzgerald Toussaint: Toussaint hasn’t played much of an important role in Pittsburgh outside of his by-necessity starting cameo in the 2015 playoffs. Still, he’s currently the only other halfback in the roster who has done anything with the team. But they are looking to add here, and his roster spot has to be considered as in jeopardy.
Roosevelt Nix: Nix got his second season off on the wrong foot, missing much of the early part of the year with a back injury. After he returned, he played a key role in some of the best games of the year blocking for Bell as his fullback. He also continues to be a high performer on special teams.
Knile Davis: Davis was one of the Steelers’ four outside free agent additions, and he may end up being the most significant if he secures the kick return role. As a running back, he likely represents little more than experienced depth. Such players don’t get much work behind Bell when healthy anyway.
Brandon Brown-Dukes: A bit of a diminutive figure yet with high college production, ‘Mercyhurst’ spent quite a bit of time on the practice squad last year and is back for more.
Dreamius Smith: Smith was undrafted in 2015 and spent most of that year on the Chargers’ practice squad, but was active for two games with no statistics. The Steelers signed him to the practice squad in late November last year and retained him as a futures player.
Gus Johnson: Another 2015 undrafted free agent, Johnson is a practice squad veteran, having spent time on the practice unit of six different teams in the past two years. The Steelers added him in mid-January after moving Smith to the practice squad injured list.
Trey Williams: The third undrafted free agent from 2015, Williams was also on the practice squad of multiple teams, but was also on three rosters that year, carrying twice for 12 yards. He was out of football in 2016 after not making the Colts’ roster and signed to a futures deal in February.
Players Lost/Not Retained:
DeAngelo Williams: He was undoubtedly one of the best backups the Steelers have had at the running back position, or could have asked for, filling in extensively over the past two years in Bell’s absence. But age and injury are leaving his return questionable.
Karlos Williams: The brother of Vince Williams, the talented young running back has had multiple chances with the Steelers already that he seems to have blown.
Notes and Draft Outlook: The Steelers haven’t drafted a true running back since Bell in 2013, with the most recent one before him being Baron Batch in 2011, who now paints and makes salsa and stuff. So it wouldn’t exactly be a shock that the team is looking to add more talent to the position via the draft.
I’ve been hearing many reports about them targeting the third round, but I would be surprised if it doesn’t happen by at least the fifth round. They seem to want somebody who can be a backup right away, but if they fail to find such a player, they may re-sign Williams after the draft.