One of the biggest divides that I see pertaining to the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason is opinions about the team’s running back position, both relative to what they should do and what they are expected to do. Including the fullback position, the team is actually scheduled to return a whopping six running backs from its 2019 roster, yet it’s not hard to find someone who thinks they should be drafting a starter in the second round.
The position is in something of a state of flux with 2018 Pro Bowler James Conner going into the final year of his rookie contract while coming off of a very disappointing third season, which was marred significantly by a series of injuries that frequently kept him off the field.
The Steelers seem to feel that as long as they have a healthy James Conner, the position is in pretty solid shape, but they can’t guarantee that they will have that. And as far as those who are behind him—Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Kerrith Whyte, and Trey Edmunds—none of them have yet proven that they can shoulder the load for an extended period of time.
This is why Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com as the Steelers listed among the teams whom he feels it is likely they will make a change at the position this offseason. He writes:
Pittsburgh’s RB room is returning as is, but Steelers fans should steel themselves for a shakeup. James Conner, the feel-good, homegrown successor to Le’Veon Bell, is coming off what Steelers GM Kevin Colbert termed a “disappointing” 2019 campaign, in which he missed six games. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Conner needs to prove he can stay healthy, and that last season’s 715-yard slump was the exception, and not the rule. Behind Conner, Pittsburgh learned last year it has dutiful, flexible backups (Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell), but no one who can carry the load if Conner goes down again. With the 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger coming off a season lost to an elbow injury, the Steelers can’t risk going into 2021 without an answer at both running back and quarterback. Pittsburgh should be a sleeper candidate to add a back to complement or replace Conner on Day 2 of the draft, or earlier in the league year.
Personally, I don’t see the need to address the position so early. I generally don’t think you should be looking at that position so high unless you’re looking for an immediate starter, and that’s not the case for 2020. It could be the case for 2021, but that’s not now.
I would hardly be shocked if we don’t see the team add a running back at all. Second seasons from both Snell and Whyte are intriguing in terms of how they can develop as supplements and perhaps even a paired replacement for the running game beyond next season, at which point they would certainly add another back to the mix.