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: Benny Snell will rush for 500-plus yards in 2020.
Explanation: As a rookie Snell recorded 108 carries, rushing for 426 yards, in spite of the fact that he was only on the field for 166 total snaps on offense. While his opportunities were clearly influenced by James Conner’s health, he will have more trust from the coaching staff, and the team may lean more on a running back by committee approach.
Mike Tomlin’s preferred approach is to have one workhorse running back. Often enough, he has had that back. Le’Veon Bell filled that role for several years, most recently. Conner himself was that back in 2018. Rashard Mendenhall, as well, had a few years of that sort of workload.
Things change, though, and the Steelers have clearly invested in the running back position, using midround picks there in four straight drafts, the first time in decades the team has done that.
Snell showed a lot of promise last year, especially as the season went on, and I would expect that he reports in the best shape of his life. That’s common for running backs after their first professional season when they realize what it takes at this level, and one thing he has is determination, and a love for the game. With that in mind, 500 yards is an entirely reasonable benchmark in a platoon setting, equating to 31.5 yards per game.
As long as Conner is healthy, Snell isn’t going to get a ton of work. His skill set is the most similar, and thus most redundant. Assuming he makes the roster, Jaylen Samuels will be the back used in the passing game. Rookie Anthony McFarland is the one who offers speed. While Snell had a decent amount of 10-plus-yard carries, he is far from a speedster.
And this is a backfield that discussed the running back committee approach last year. it didn’t really play out that way, excepting for Conner’s injury. In the first six games of the 2019 season, Snell only had 23 attempts with Conner healthy, for 105 yards, averaging under 20 yards per game, and his per-rush average dropped after that.