The turnover at the running back position in just a couple years’ time has been awfully significant for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and in particular for James Conner, the team’s second of two third-round draft picks in 2017. In a little over two years, he has suddenly gone from being the greenhorn to the seasoned veteran.
As he came in, he was brought in as Le’Veon Bell’s backup. Bell was about as proven as any running back in the league at the time, a Pro Bowler, and All-Pro, whose only blemish in his career at that point pretty much had been his availability. Of course his availability for the 2018 season is what opened the door for him.
And for Jaylen Samuels. And now for the drafting of Benny Snell. Samuels got to start a few games last year and held his own. The team feels really good about Snell, both on and off the field, and his ability to contribute. They feel they have a strong group now, and the head of the pack, Conner, is happy to see it.
“That is how you win games, with depth”, he told the team’s website. “If you look around the league a lot of good teams have multiple running backs. I know he had great numbers in college. I know he can play. There will be no drop off. That is how you win games, with depth”.
Just think of the New Orleans Saints, who in recent years got to pair Mark Ingram with Alvin Kamara. Now Ingram is actually with the Baltimore Ravens and will pair with 2018 rookie Gus Edwards, who found success after Lamar Jackson was installed into the lineup.
Other teams with notable usage (or projected usage) of multiple backs would be the Cincinnati Bengals with Joe Mixon and Giovanni Bernard, the Minnesota Vikings with Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, the Los Angeles Chargers with Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, and the Cleveland Browns, who will have Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and Duke Johnson in 2019.
Is it any coincidence that all four teams in the AFC North could figure prominently in the mix of teams who make use of a stable of multiple running backs? Of course, we’ll have to see if Ben Roethlisberger is going to throw the ball 700 times or now.
“We are getting to know each other, getting to know the new guys”, Conner said, which there is largely talking about Snell, who figures to be the number three back this year, replacing veteran Stevan Ridley. “They are great people and great players. We are getting to know each other in the meeting room, on the field, in the locker room”.
Two years ago, Conner was the guy behind Bell, working with veteran Fitzgerald Toussaint and just learning the ropes. Now he will be trying to show the ropes to Samuels, who is still new to the position on a full-time basis, and Snell. But that’s how you build depth, especially at a fungible position with a short shelf-life.