Now that the 2020 offseason has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past season, and with notice to anything that happens going forward.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: RB Jaylen Samuels
Stock Value: Down
The Steelers under Mike Tomlin have variably carried either three or four running backs. Most recently, at least when entering the season, the preference has been to stick with three, though it has usually risen to four due to injuries, Trey Edmunds also providing special teams play.
At the end of the 2019 season, they ended up with five running backs on the 53-man roster, though that comes with the caveat that fullback Roosevelt Nix was on injured reserve, and Edmunds even took a couple of snaps at fullback. They also didn’t really need the roster spot for anything else at the time.
Still, ending one year with five running backs doesn’t necessarily bode well for a large number at the position for the next season. It always depends on the roster makeup in any given year, which can change fairly substantially between seasons.
Now as Jaylen Samuels enters his third season, and having watched the team draft two running backs in the past two years one round higher than he was taken, he may be cautious about his own job security, especially considering the poor numbers he put up last season.
The backfield if the Steelers keep only three running backs is a no-brainer: James Conner, Benny Snell, and rookie Anthony McFarland. Edmunds is not making it, at this point. A fourth running back would be decided between Samuels and Kerrith Whyte, whom McFarland largely makes redundant.
Disregarding the obvious—that there has to be an open roster spot—there are a couple of ways that Samuels can tip the scale in his favor. One is to show himself to be the dynamic receiving threat that the backfield otherwise lacks. The other is to make himself more useful on special teams.
Even though he has played 259 special teams snaps over his first two seasons, he hasn’t exactly done so with distinction. When the team does keep four running backs, it’s almost always because at least one of them is a significant special teams contributor. Snell played a lot of special teams last year, but I’m not sure how much that helps Samuels if the former is ahead on the depth chart already.