The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Who is the third-greatest running back in Steelers history?
Hey, I mean we might as well keep it going, no? yesterday’s topic about who the third-greatest quarterback in franchise history drew a lot of responses and discussion, so perhaps others will generate some attention as well. As with the quarterback position, I think the top two players at running back in Steelers history are pretty well solidified, so the question is—who is the third-best running back?
There was Franco Harris. Years later, there was Jerome Bettis. The Steelers have had other talented and accomplished running backs, but none matched the sustained success and longevity of these two, so everybody else comes in third. Or later. But who is next in line? Let’s run through some candidates, and of course name your own if not mentioned here, as this isn’t meant to be exhaustive.
We might as well start with the recent players. There’s Le’Veon Bell, and I’m hoping we can have this discussion limited to on-field contributions and not decide that he was a worse player because of how things unfolded. He played 18 fewer games than Willie Parker but had just 42 fewer rushing yards for fourth in franchise history at 5336. He also had 11 more touchdowns than Parker, and, oh, Bell is even 20th on the team’s all-time receiving yardage list too.
Then of course there’s Parker, who had a great three-year run from 2005 to 2007. He carried 913 times in that span for 4012 yards with 19 touchdowns, 13 of which came in 2006. He also owns the longest rushing play in Super Bowl history.
John Henry Johnson might get the Bobby Layne treatment because of his vintage, playing in the early to mid 60s, but the dude’s in the Hall of Fame, and most of his best years came in Pittsburgh. He was also an accomplished pass-catcher to boot, relatively speaking. Rocky Bleier and Merril Hoge might get some love too, but there’s one guy who should be mentioned and might go ignored.
Rashard Mendenhall. I just can’t help but think of what kind of career he might have had if he had played with the offensive line Bell had. Mendenhall didn’t have the luxury of being patient, even though he tried, with the blocking he was provided with, but he still produced some strong seasons, particularly in 2010, the Super Bowl year, when he rushed for 1273 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was a guy who could have been utilized in the passing game more as well. I’m not offering him as my answer to the question, but I think he deserves to be in the conversation.