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 will be drafting another running back early in the draft next year.
Explanation: With James Conner currently scheduled to become a free agent next year and no proven workhorse back on the roster, Pittsburgh could well be looking for a new primary running back next year. Many thought they might draft J.K. Dobbins this year. Drafting Anthony McFarland will not prevent them from seizing upon a similar opportunity in 2021 if Conner is gone and others like Benny Snell haven’t shown that they can be a Pro Bowl-level workhorse running back.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Conner is not going to be back in Pittsburgh in 2021. It’s nearly equally as likely that nobody else on the roster is a featured back. Benny Snell is at best a lesser version of Conner, and that’s more of a strong number two than somebody who is going to run your offense.
Mike Tomlin has continued to reiterate no matter the circumstances that he takes a workhorse mentality to the running back position. He drafted Rashard Mendenhall in 2008, and not long after he was gone, he drafted Le’Veon Bell. He had his heart set on Conner in 2017, even though he was available later. With him gone next year, it will be on to the next back—whoever the next Dobbins is that they have a chance to nab.
I do think it’s more likely than not that Conner is probably gone next year. But that doesn’t mean that they’re automatically going to draft another running back high. They already have three mid-round running backs on the depth chart right now.
McFarland is the type of running back that you want to use as a complement, and Snell is the type of back you would want to complement with a running back like McFarland. At a bare minimum, the Steelers are probably going to want to see how this pair works before they make a major investment at a position that they know has a short shelf life and a value with diminishing returns.