While Pittsburgh Steelers running backs James Conner and Jaylen Samuels have soaked up all the limelight after a dominant showing against the Cincinnati Bengals, head coach Mike Tomlin made sure to sing the praises of rookie running back Benny Snell Jr. for his early contributions this season as well.
Snell had just two carries for one yard against the Bengals but it was his special teams’ contributions, not his rushing ability that impressed the Steelers’ head coach.
“I really like what’s going on with Benny,” Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference. “I think what’s going on with him in the special teams’ phase is always an indication of an upward trajectory. He’s a running back who’s making tackles in the special teams’ game. I think he’s got four or so tackles on the season. He’s on our kick coverage units, and so he’s proven that he’s a football player first and those guys usually make themselves available to you in a variety of ways. So, we like the direction his growth and development is going.”
Through four games, Snell has managed to play over 60-percent of the Steelers’ special teams snaps and he has not been lost in the shuffle either. According to Team Rankings, Snell has also made two special teams’ tackles this season.
The progression for Snell has always been one that depended on his special teams’ play. He was not projected to take many snaps from Conner, the lead back or even Samuels as his versatility has provided a new spark to the Steelers’ offense. The development for Snell, especially if he wanted to remain active on gamedays was always going to run through his special teams’ ability and so far, he has made the most of his opportunities.
By impressing his coach with his special teams’ play, Snell has managed to take a few carries away from Conner and Samuels this season and he has also delivered on those opportunities as well. The rookie running back currently only has six carries for 30 yards but he is responsible for the Steelers’ longest run of the season after bursting through the Seattle Seahawks defense for 23-yards in Week 2.
Like Tomlin mentioned during his Tuesday press conference, Snell’s ability to stick out on special teams has made him available in a variety of ways. Whether it be on special teams, a short yardage scenario or even just to spell Conner or Samuels, Snell is in line to continue contributing to this football team.
While most mid to late round draft picks bounce between being active or inactive, Snell has proven that he is here to stay due to his special teams’ play.