2020 Training Camp Battles: Backup Running Back

With our series breaking down each position on the roster completed, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2020 season.

This is not a conventional offseason, of course, for obvious reasons, which is likely to play a role in many of these battles, some in ways that we might not foresee. Generally speaking, it should favor players who have greater experience, but there’s a reason these questions are left unanswered until we get on the field.

Position: Running Back

Up for Grabs: Backup Role

In the Mix: Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels

I am keeping the scope of this competition tight, because I believe that is how it will play out. Trey Edmunds is not going to be in the competition for the number two running back role, and is on the outside looking in for a roster spot. Both Kerrith Whyte and Anthony McFarland fit a more complementary role, and the latter is a rookie while the former is probably too light to command much of a workload.

So it comes down to Benny Snell, who introduced us to Benny Snell Football™ as a fourth-round rookie draft pick out of Kentucky last year, and Jaylen Samuels, going into his third season out of North Carolina State and coming off of a very disappointing year.

While the two of them have varying skill sets, they do share one thing in common, and that is that they both suffered knee injuries during the 2019 season that required in-season cleanup procedures and forced them to miss time.

The difference is that Snell responded much better from his knee injury. He ended up with 108 carries for 426 yards and two touchdowns by the end of the year, and the vast majority of that came following his injury.

Samuels, on the other hand, averaged 2.7 yards per rush on 66 carries and 6.5 yards per reception on 47 catches, scoring twice on 113 combined touches. He showed surprising elusiveness during a rookie season in which he averaged 5.5 yards per touch and three touchdowns on 82 touches that was almost entirely absent last season.

That doesn’t mean he can’t look much better, closer to his rookie season last year. and where he has a major edge is in the receiving department. He already has 73 receptions in his career, for 504 yards and four touchdowns. Snell can catch if need be, but Samuels is a route runner with a lot of experience at the college level—even if his pass protection still needs a lot of work.

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