In his 2019 rookie season, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell Jr. nearly led the team in rushing as he finished just 38 yards behind fellow running back James Conner, who only managed 464 yards on the ground in his third season. While Snell, the Steelers 2019 fourth-round draft pick out of Kentucky, had a few nice moments in his limited playing time as a rookie, he made it clear in a recent training cap interview that he knows he needs to improve in a lot of different areas as he enters his sophomore season in the NFL.
“I need to work on everything,” Snell said recently, according to Teresa Varley of steelers.com. “I need to focus on being a better route-runner, a better pass protector, knowing pass pro and blitzes better. How the pass plays and run plays are run so I know the sweet spots, just being ahead of the game.
“There is always a way you can get better or an edge on your opponent when you are preparing for guys during the week. Film, getting the reps you can in practice, taking care of my body has been a big thing for me. A lot of those things tie in to how you play the game. It’s huge and it’s my job.
“And I love my job.”
While Snell loves his job, he’ll still more than likely open his second season as the primary backup to Conner and a heavy contributor on special teams. With Conner’s injury history, however, Snell figures to have a great opportunity to see even more playing time in 2020. How he does in whatever offensive playing he does get will go a long way in determining if he has a shot at being the Steelers feature runner in 2021.
While Snell only managed a 3.9 yards per carry average in 2019, he did post a team-best 49 percent run success rate and also led the team in explosive runs of 20 yards or longer with three in total. The running back also managed to register 4 special teams tackles in the total 183 snaps he played in that phase of the game during his rookie season.
“I think I did decent as a rookie, contributing with the chances I had in front of me,” Snell said recently. “I feel like there is a lot of growth for me, a lot of things I can get better at via offense and special teams.”
The Steelers have a nice recent history of their running backs getting themselves in much better physical shape ahead of their second seasons starting. Judging by the early photos we’ve seen of Snell so far during training camp, he looks to have followed suit.
Back in May, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had quite a few positive things to say about Snell during an interview with Kentucky basketball head coach John Calipari.
“I’m excited about year-two,” Tomlin said of Snell. “You know how it is, you’ve been a lap around the track, you kind of know how to ground is laid. He had some contribution to us a year ago and it’s reasonable to expect him to just continue to take off and be a big-time guy for us.”
While the Steelers did ultimately draft yet another running back this year in Anthony McFarland Jr. out of Maryland, he’s more of a change of pace runner and situational offensive piece and thus very unlikely to register more than 75 touches as a rookie. In short, and assuming Snell does indeed wind up making the Steelers 53-man roster this year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t, he’s going to get offensive playing time in his second season.
If Conner can’t stay healthy in 2020, Snell very well might wind up being the Steelers leading rusher come the end of the regular season. In the meantime, he just needs to work on getting better at the finer details that he recently mentioned and just remain patient, which it sounds like he’s doing.
“It’s a long road and it’s a rollercoaster,” Snell said recently. “It’s all about staying level.”