Something that I talked about earlier today in my stock watch update for offensive lineman B.J. Finney is the fact that having enough talent to be deserving of a starting role, or of playing time, is not always sufficient. Ability without opportunity means nothing is a quotation ascribed to Napoleon, and in many ways he’s quite right, including in the world of football.
That’s where the idea of a ‘starter in waiting’ comes from. That’s the basis of ‘the standard is the standard’. Everybody, at least in theory, is expected to be able to play at a starter’s level. It’s just a matter of having the opportunity to start.
And that is what rookie running back Benny Snell, Jr., who was a workhorse back for the Kentucky Wildcats over the last three years, will be facing during his first NFL season—in spite of the fact that his position coach, Eddie Faulkner, believes that “he can do it all”, as he told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“As far as the physical attributes, he can catch, he can run, he can block”, Faulkner, who is also in his first season both with the Steelers and at the NFL level, added of Snell. “He cares about it. He’s smart, and he’s going to be a good player. We’re going to continue to develop him and see where it goes”.
Seeing where it goes is the crux of the matter, as the fourth-round draft pick is coming in behind a Pro Bowler in running back James Conner. In 13 games, Conner rushed for nearly 1000 yards at 4.5 yards per carry, adding nearly another 500 yards in receptions, with 13 total touchdowns.
And that’s not to mention Jaylen Samuels, whom Faulkner himself coached at the college level. Samuels made a major transition into a true running back last season on the fly, and was able to put up good numbers both as a runner and a receiver, including a 100-yard rushing game and three receiving touchdowns.
Where will Snell fit in? Wherever he can, whenever he can. The first step is earning the confidence and trust of your peers and coaches. “It’s just a matter of him learning what to do and that he trusts himself and we trust him, and his teammates trust him out there on the football field to execute”, Faulkner said.
That’s a process that almost every rookie goes through. Conner wasn’t much trusted during his rookie season in 2017 behind Le’Veon Bell. Samuels only started working his way up from the number three back when Stevan Ridley struggled ahead of him.
But if, as Faulkner says, Snell can really do it all—he didn’t do much pass-catching at all at Kentucky—the Steelers could try to find a way to get him involved. It’s not a guarantee—just ask LeGarrette Blount or DeAngelo Williams whenever Bell was healthy—but it’s the only way.