With the run game at times grounding to a standstill during the course of the 2019 season, many Pittsburgh Steelers fans are beginning to get jittery about the future of the running back position, some even turning their hopes to a Day Two pick at the position, which they had previously done (in the compensatory picks) with starter James Conner in 2017.
Conner went on to have a Pro Bowl season in 2018 that featured him score 13 touchdowns in 13 games played and roughly 1500 yards from scrimmage, but his third year was marred by injury. In the midst of a breakout 145-yard rushing game in Week Eight, he suffered a shoulder injury that would derail him for the bulk of the remaining schedule.
Jaylen Samuels filled in for Conner during his injury in 2018, doing so occasionally admirably, but did not appear up to the challenge, frequently enough, this past season. On the other hand, rookie Benny Snell put together a few solid games that has some hopeful about what he can do in his second year.
And he knows what is expected of him making that sort of career transition. “The rookie season to your second season has to be a huge jump”, he told Jacob Klinger, “and that’s what I plan on doing.”
Over the course of the season, the fourth-round pick out of Kentucky rushed for 426 yards with two touchdowns on 108 carries. He had four highlight games in particular, carrying the ball 16 or more times in each, including an 18-rush, 91-yard game in the finale in which he also scored the team’s only touchdown. He caught just three passes for 23 yards.
“It’s basically being a lot more careful on what I eat, going 10 times harder than I did way before”, Snell said of what comes into making that second-year jump. “A lot of that is gonna come with me being a lot smarter, me being a lot smarter on the field. So I’m definitely gonna go over film‚ protections”.
He emphasized the importance of working on his pass protection, as well as his hands in the passing game, to go along with improving his acceleration, which had been noticeably lacking on occasion during his rookie season. “There’s a lot of things” to work on, he said.
Aside from Conner, Samuels, and Snell, there is also Kerrith Whyte to consider in the discussion. Claimed off the Chicago Bears’ practice squad as a rookie seventh-round pick late in the year, the speedy back flashed some potential in limited work. Trey Edmunds remains, but would have a hard time finding a roster spot. It’s difficult to envision a rookie draft pick having an easy time making the team as well.