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 Wendell Smallwood
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Running backs coach Eddie Faulkner talked up the veteran back earlier in the week, who was signed at the start of training camp, calling him a consummate professional, which is a desired trait this season more than usual.
The Steelers, one might argue, have at least six running backs who could be categorized as deserving of a roster spot, either having been on rosters in previous years or now coming in as mid-round draft picks. James Conner is in his fourth year with the team, Jaylen Samuels his third, Benny Snell his second. Kerrith Whyte is in year two after flashing as a late pickup. Anthony McFarland is the rookie. And then there’s Smallwood, who has more experience in the NFL than even Conner.
Considering Conner’s lengthy injury history, the Steelers might desire the experience and preparedness of a guy like Smallwood,, and they have tried to bring in similar backs before, with mixed results, such as Felix Jones and Stevan Ridley, or more notably, LeGarrette Blount and, at the tail end of his career, DeAngelo Williams.
Conner is the only running back on the roster who has ever been entrusted with a full workload. Samuels has started, but was rotated in and out. Snell could be a workhorse back, but he is only going into year two, and he’s had a limited offseason this year, which could stunt his growth potential.
Of every player on the roster, he may well be determined by the coaching staff that Smallwood is the best-equipped to be the primary backup and a spot starter should it be necessary. He does have some history being a spot starter, even if his career-high in snaps is 44, and 18 his career-high in carries for a game.
Whatever happens, they will work it out in a platoon, with Snell and McFarland contributing. That is assuming that there is even a fourth running back on the roster, but his veteran experience may be the factor that falls in Smallwood’s favor and pushes the Steelers to carry the extra backfield presence.