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
Reasoning: The third-year running back was placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list yesterday, which means that he either tested positive for the coronavirus or is believed to have been exposed to it. Either way, it definitively means that he will miss some time as training camp begins.
With the Steelers having drafted two running backs in the past two drafts since he was selected, and with higher draft picks than the one used to add him to the team, it stands to reason that Jaylen Samuels enters his third season in the NFL on the bubble.
James Conner, the only running back who has been here longer, remains the lead runner without question, but the team has filled the depth chart with the likes of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland over the past two seasons. They have also added Kerrith Whyte, and recently veteran back Wendell Smallwood, to the mix.
Pittsburgh has a loaded backfield in line for training camp, so any time that Samuels has to miss is not going to work in his favor, especially given his struggles and poor numbers during the 2019 season. While he did work through a knee injury last year to explain some of that, this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately industry, and he knows that.
One could argue that the Steelers have five or six running backs in training camp who are worth a roster spot somewhere in the NFL, so that makes for some stiff competition, and makes every available rep count for those who are not already penciled in for a spot. Conner and the rookie McFarland are almost surely safe, and Snell likely is as well, so we are already potentially talking about carrying a fourth running back, which is never a guarantee.
One advantage in Samuels’ favor is the fact that he has two years in the Steelers’ system already, and with the limitations of this offseason, including no preseason games, his veteran experience and knowledge of the system will help him hold on to a roster spot—but not if he is not available. Hopefully for his sake, he did not and will not test positive for the virus and will be back with his teammates as early as possible, and before any serious practicing begins.