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 Steelers will carry four or more running backs to start the 2020 season.
Explanation: While three running backs is the most common number of running backs for the Steelers to carry, especially in recent years and in light of fullback Roosevelt Nix’s emergence, they also have a history of carrying four running backs, and they may have the opportunity and desire to do so in 2020.
First of all, you have the running backs themselves. James Conner and Benny Snell are pretty much locks. Jaylen Samuels didn’t have a good year in 2019, but the Steelers have seen better from him, and Ben Roethlisberger likes him a lot. The entire offense was hindered a year ago. And then there’s Kerrith Whyte, who flashed last year as a rookie. He is also currently the starting kick returner, so there’s your special teams angle. Snell also plays on special teams.
Second, there are the roster spot opportunities. This is a long way off, but it’s hard to see them carrying more than five wide receivers this season. With guys like Anthony Chickillo and Mark Barron due to be released, don’t expect any more than nine linebackers at most, and maybe even only eight. There will likely only be eight offensive linemen was well, considering who they’ve lost and will likely lose. Add in the possibility of a draft pick at the position to bolster the odds.
Whyte did return kicks last season, but he wasn’t very good at it. He had one good return, but he was also stopped short of the 20 a lot. So that card doesn’t exactly play in his favor. And as far as we know, Ryan Switzer will be back, who was the starting kick returner. Diontae Johnson, the punt returner, will probably move into the backup kick return role as well.
One of the reasons they had room for four running backs last year was because Nix was injured. He should be healthy this year. Conner should be healthy as well, so they won’t need as much insulation, plus Snell will be better-equipped to shoulder the load with a more well-rounded game.