Going into the 2020, the running back position for the Pittsburgh Steelers is surprisingly unsettled given the numbers that they have at the position signed to the roster. Of note is former third-round pick James Conner entering the final season of his rookie contract. Then there is Jaylen Samuels, moving into year three. Their most recent draft pick at the position is Benny Snell, taken in the fourth round in April, and he ended up serving a key role down the stretch.
Despite the fact that he only hit the 50% mark in snaps played in a game one time during the year, he registered 16 or more carries in a game five times during the season, including in four of the final six games, totaling 108 rushes on the year for 426 yards, scoring two touchdowns. He caught three passes for 23 yards as well.
In addition to his work on offense, he was typically a core special teams player in most of the games that he played. He played at least 17 snaps on special teams in eight of his 13 games played, including 41 snaps over the final two games of the year.
Arguably, his strongest game of the season came in the final against the Baltimore Ravens, an overall disappointing game for the Steelers—particularly the offense—but he managed to rush for 91 yards and score his second touchdown on 18 carries, in addition to adding an eight-yard reception.
Said Snell, “I feel like I’ve proved my trust, I proved my trust in situations that we’ve been in”. He added, “I proved that I can contribute in the ways that I can, whether it’s leaving me in offense or special teams”.
There were a few games in which Snell played a prominent role after which head coach Mike Tomlin was rather complimentary of the rookie running back, saying at one point that he has the demeanor of a featured runner, which was fortunate at the time, as their featured runner, Conner, was injured.
That is the backdrop against which is set his first full offseason in Pittsburgh. Conner hasn’t been fully healthy a whole lot over the course of the past 20 games the Steelers have played, whether that is missing games or simply playing through injuries.
There is an opportunity within that dynamic to carve out a niche for himself, and possibility even set up a bigger role in the future, considering the fact that Conner will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021 if he is not extended prior to then.
Snell proved at least that he can make some plays and throw a block in pass protection. He proved that he is a hard worker who can take coaching. Now it’s imperative that he prove he can make a significant jump in his game from year one to year two, applying the lessons learned in his first season.