The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will carry four running backs again this year.
Explanation: Over the course of Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach, the Steelers have flopped back and forth between a preference for carrying three running backs and carrying four. The preference over the past year and a half or so has been four, and this year could potentially follow that pattern.
The Steelers already have five running backs who have been on NFL rosters before, plus first round pick Najee Harris. While they lost James Conner, and frankly, Trey Edmunds is not going to make the opening-day roster unless there are injuries, it seems intuitively obvious that there are advantages to carrying most of the rest.
Behind Harris, you’re going to have Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland as more or less sure depth. Then you have Jaylen Samuels, and you signed Kalen Ballage in free agency. Fans might not care for Samuels’ game, but the Steelers have kept him on the roster for three years now.
At least one of Ballage and Samuels is going to make the team. Ballage has historical success in situational aspects of the game, such as on third and short and at the goal line, which is an area the team badly needs to improve.
As always, it comes down to positional numbers and what you can do. Ballage has played in the past, but didn’t play much special teams last year. Samuels has special teams numbers, but he hasn’t been particularly good at it, and those players eventually start getting phased out.
I think Snell has a good case for sticking on his special teams contributions alone, and McFarland is too new and too intriguing to walk away from yet, especially now with his college coach as offensive coordinator. I think these are your number two and three backs.
Because they need to carry nine offensive linemen this year. They’re going to have at least five ‘inside linebackers’, maybe even six with flex players like Marcus Allen and Miles Killebrew. There will be a couple of undrafted free agents who sneak into the secondary as well, perhaps.
And then there’s Derek Watt. He’s already the fourth back. One of the reasons they entered the season with four last year was because of Conner’s injury history and free agency status, working toward the future. Those issues are in the past now. Najee is the future. They won’t need much else.