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: The running back position is a high-priority draft need for the Steelers in 2020.
Explanation: Statistically, the Steelers had one of the worst run games in the league in 2019. They ranked 30th in rushing yards, 30th in rushing touchdowns, and 31st in yards per attempt. But they also dealt with injuries of varying significance to each of their top three running backs.
While it’s true that the Steelers endured injuries at the running back position, as it concerns their top dog, James Conner, that has to be considered a part of the conversation. Conner has suffered a relatively serious injury in every year of his career professionally, and has a collegiate injury history as well.
Entering the final year of his contract, the Steelers can draft a Day Two running back who would be ready to start in 2021 and work as a bridge to the post-Ben Roethlisberger offense. Jaylen Samuels may not even make the team in 2020, and Benny Snell is not built like a modern NFL back. It’s unlikely he will be able to make the same sort of transition that Conner did from year one to year two.
Add all this together, and you have a draft need. Even assuming Roethlisberger returns in 2020, you’re not going to want to push him more than you have to. That means having a strong run game you can lean on. That means…having a better backfield.
The thing is, the Steelers have what they need to have a better backfield, both schematically and relative to talent. Even assuming Conner’s health will prevent them from having one do-everything back, and that Snell won’t grow into one, they have enough complementary material to work with.
The necessary growth is really in the structuring of the run game, the blocking techniques used, and the timing of the plays called. All of these areas can use work, and it doesn’t matter who your back is.