Truth be told, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not necessarily in the market for a goal-line running back. That is a role that third-year running back James Conner ably filled last season in his first full year as a starter, scoring 13 touchdowns, 10 of which were rushes that came from within five yards of the goal line. The vast majority were within two yards. So he probably knows a little something about finishing plays in tight spaces. He had a high success ratio on short-yardage runs throughout the year.
So, too, did new Steelers running back Benny Snell during his college career as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats. While he tries to embrace every aspect of the game and is willing to tackle any assignment that will be asked of him, he knows that there is a certain mentality—and a certain joy—to playing at the goal line.
“It’s about having the hard-nosed mentality”, he told reporters about running with the end zone almost in reach. “Whether it’s one, two, three people in your way, you have to have that extra push. That extra drive to get through it no matter what. Then it’s about making smart decisions. Sometimes it might not be pretty at first. The hole might not be there. It’s about having vision, being a smart runner. Hitting this crease, making that read. Reading blocks. I feel like it’s all together”.
This is not the first time since being drafted that Snell has talked about wanting to run smart, rather than simply running with a physical style. That’s a wise decision on his part as he transition to the college level, where it might be easier to simply get by on your size without wearing down, to the pros, where most players he’s going up against are going to be his equal from a physical standpoint.
As Dave Bryan already highlighted yesterday, Snell was a very good runner in short-yardage situations entering the NFL, and it’s never a bad thing to come into the league with a resume that includes success in situational football.
But with the Steelers, it’s going to have to be a process to determine what kind of role he is going to have. Conner on the top of the food chain is going to be a significant obstacle in his way toward playing time, depending on the philosophy Mike Tomlin embraces, which historically has been to rely on one workhorse runner.
Aside from Conner himself, there is second-year Jaylen Samuels, who had success during his rookie season and likely could be targeted as something of a third-down back because of his pass-catching skills that separate him from the rest of the group.
But the Steelers wouldn’t have bothered to draft Snell in the fourth round if they didn’t think there was a role for him somewhere, at some point. And whenever it comes, you know he is going to bring the enthusiasm.