2020 Offseason Questions: How Likely Are Steelers To Carry 4 RBs?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.

The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.

How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: How likely are the Steelers to carry four running backs (in addition to a fullback)?

One thing nobody can claim is that the Steelers have failed to invest in their running game, at least from a backfield perspective. Over the course of the past four years, they have drafted four running backs in the middle rounds, including one third-round pick, two fourth-round picks, and a fifth-round pick. They have also signed a fullback in free agency, making him the second-highest-paid player at his position.

The team retains five running backs who are on its 53-man roster at the end of last season (plus one that was on the practice squad), and to that was added Anthony McFarland in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. When it comes time to finalize their roster, however, how many of them will be there?

It should be noted that it is not uncommon for the Steelers to carry four running backs, even at the start of a season, though three has been slightly more common under Mike Tomlin. In other words, there is some precedent.

James Conner is also heading into the final year of his contract. Benny Snell is the closest thing behind him to an every-down-capable player. Jaylen Samuels is more somebody who can catch passes out of the backfield. Kerrith Whyte is almost purely a speed guy, while McFarland is a nice complement with his combination of speed and toughness. There is enough in-house to justify carrying at least four of them, but it also has to make sense in the overall scheme of the roster.

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