The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will have three running backs top 500 yards from scrimmage in 2019.
Explanation: In his first season as a starter, James Conner totaled nearly 1500 yards in 13 games. Jaylen Samuels emerged late in the season as he backup and totaled 455 yards from scrimmage. With the drafting of Benny Snell, there have been hints of using a committee at running back to some degree.
I think it’s pretty much a given that both Conner and Samuels will hit the 500-yard mark. While Samuels will not be starting any games as he did last year, he’s going to have a much bigger role through the bulk of the season than he did in 2018.
The Steelers have already worked some two-back sets into the mix with Conner and Samuels together, greatly increasing the odds of these numbers hitting. So the only real variable is Snell, and the team has also talked about him and his similarities to Conner with an eye toward him being somebody who could spell him. He could also be incorporated situationally or as a closer.
There have been comments made to the effect that the team’s reputation for employing a workhorse back is misguided because it was what their personnel dictates. You can take that as a prelude to a more democratic backfield going forward.
Talk is talk. Precedent tells a different story. The reality is that if Conner actually stays healthy, there’s a good chance he’s the only back who crosses the 500-yard mark. He wasn’t even supposed to be the starter last year, so the minimal rotation they did even in 2018 was partly a product of the lack of preparation for that reality.
He also has a full year of work under his belt, not to mention a Pro Bowl. Unless there is a compelling strategic justification for it, Conner is not going to leave the field just so Snell can get some work. There is enough history over the past dozen years to tell us that is how Tomlin operates when he has a workhorse, which Conner very much is, or can be. Snell is insulation.