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: Rookie running back Benny Snell showed the coaching staff enough to earn meaningful playing time going forward.
Explanation: The Steelers talked about having a three-headed backfield during the offseason. Or at least the running backs did. But when the season actually started, it was really just James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Not that Snell was being left out. But after getting a long look against the Los Angeles Chargers, he showed some things he hadn’t previously.
Considering some of the situational football areas in which the team has struggled, I think there is a niche for Snell to be used, both circumstantially and rotationally. Conner has been getting banged up anyway, suffering multiple minor injuries this year already. Taking a possession or two off his shoulders could make a difference.
The rookie ran well against the Chargers, not just on average but on tape. He also recorded successful runs on just under half of his carries. Considering the overall performance of the run game so far this season, that’s notable.
Even in the last game, in which Conner scored twice (once on the ground), he needed 16 carries to get 41 yards, and his touchdown was I believe 11 yards. If Snell can produce fewer negative plays, then the coaches will find an opportunity to play him, now that he has gotten some meaningful work, and had the bye week to sort things out.
History alone suggests it’s unlikely that Snell gets much work at all, barring injury. Mike Tomlin uses one primary back when he thinks he has one, and that is exactly what he thinks he has in Conner. And when Samuels gets back, they are still trying to integrate him more into the offense.
It’s more advantageous to do so with Samuels, as well, since he and Conner complement each other better with the diversity of their skill sets. Conner and Snell are too similar, so as long as he’s producing and healthy, the rookie won’t see the field much at all.