Even though he generated a decent amount of enthusiasm toward the end of last season, Kerrith Whyte’s name is one that has largely gone overlooked this offseason by Pittsburgh Steelers fans—or at least since the 2020 NFL Draft, when the team ostensibly drafted a player who makes his skillset redundant.
A speedy running back who was drafted late by the Chicago Bears last year, Whyte was signed off their practice squad with six games left to play. He played in all six of those games, recording 24 rushing attempts for 122 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry with a 21-yard run. He also took over kick return duties, returning 14, albeit for only 264 yards.
The FAU product is one of five running backs returning from last year’s 53-man roster, and he was the last to be added, so there is reason for pessimism concerning his roster hopes. The group ahead of him includes James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Benny Snell, all draft picks from the previous three years.
To that group they added fourth-round pick Anthony McFarland this year. Special teamer Trey Edmunds also remains from last season, and since the start of training camp, they also added the services of a veteran in Wendell Smallwood.
But the opportunity the Steelers provided him last season is one he doesn’t take for granted. Whyte only spent the first three games of the 2019 season on the Bears’ roster, not even dressing, before they waived him, re-signing him to the practice squad. He remained there over the next eight weeks before Pittsburgh signed him and put him on the field.
“I am just happy they trusted me” he told Teresa Varley for the team’s training camp blog. “I got here and four days later played in my first game. It was unique. I appreciated that. When someone trusts you with the ball, that’s what it’s about. The game is about the ball. You respect the ball. Everything revolves around the ball. When somebody puts the ball in your hands and trusts you, that goes a long way”.
He didn’t make things easy on himself by declaring for the draft a year early, but he was on multiple teams’ radars, including the Steelers, who did have him in for a pre-draft visit. “The guys here showed nothing but love from the moment I walked in”, he said.
“They took great care of me and I am appreciative of that. I would say everybody I came in touch with helped me”, he added. “The running backs of course, because I was in contact with them the most. They showed me a lot of love and really took care of me. I took a little piece from everybody, from the coaching staff, the strength staff, the veterans in the room. They were all a part of the puzzle”.
The puzzle left for him to figure out is how to retain his spot on the 53-man roster. The best way to do so may be to show that he is their best option to return kicks this season, something he did well in college, averaging 26.1 yards per return with two touchdowns over 81 returns.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity they have given me”, he said of Pittsburgh. “To be able to play meaningful downs in games, it meant a lot. I will forever appreciate it”.