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 have enough at the running back position to effectively execute their offense in 2020.
Explanation: One of the most divisive topics in the fandom right now is as to whether or not and to what degree the Steelers need help at the running back position. Some are opposed to drafting a running back at all this year, while others think it should be a priority with their top pick. Informing answers is what one thinks of the team’s current stable of running backs.
Under better circumstances, particularly healthwise, the Steelers had enough at running back to get by through the 2019 season, so they have enough to get by through the 2020 season, as well. This is largely the same backfield as 2018, as well, except with James Conner being inexperienced, Jaylen Samuels being a rookie, and having a veteran fumbler in Stevan Ridley.
A second-year Benny Snell and Kerrith Whyte, the latter having his first taste of an offseason with the Steelers, is an appealing incentive to divert resources away from the position when those resources are scarce. Both and be reasonably expected to make significant jumps in their second years.
The crux of the answer, though, is James Conner. When he is healthy, he has the capability of being a workhorse in all phases of the position. Even last season, there were games during which he was clearly the best player on the field, including after his initial shoulder injury.
But when it comes to Conner, at this point, you have to consider your health, and then you have to ask if the combination of Snell, Samuels, and Whyte is enough to get you through a long stretch without him. The answer to that is no, not without the defense bailing the offense out.
Samuels has regressed, to the point where you have to wonder if he makes the team, whereas Whyte is good for only a handful of plays. Snell can be a volume carrier, but doesn’t have a full repertoire yet, and needs to improve his efficiency. Down Conner, we could see the team use some 01 or 02 sets this year. They resorted to empty sets in 2018 when they only had a novice Conner, with Le’Veon Bell a no-show.