2021 Pre-Training Camp Roster Review: Running Back

The last time that we took a look back at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster in review, it was weeks before the 2021 NFL Draft took place. It would be safe to say that quite a bit has changed since then, and the changes apply to almost every position on the roster, some major changes, some minor, though some have remained largely static.

We are closing in on the opening of the Steelers’ several weeks of training camp, this time back at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, so it would be a good time to pause and take stock of where the team stands at each position as we head into the most critical process of the offseason.

Position: Running Back

Total Positional Figure: 7

Additions: 2

Deletions: 1

Players Retained:

Benny Snell: Going into his third year, Snell is looking to prove that he can be an efficient number two running back who is capable of being a workhorse when necessary. He put up some rather inefficient numbers last season, but has tended to look better the more carries he gets as a game goes on.

Anthony McFarland: Now in his second season, and with his college coach promoted to offensive coordinator, McFarland could be in for a much bigger role in 2021. The only running back in the room with legitimate speed, he could carve out a niche as a change-of-pace back, especially if he displays good hands.

Jaylen Samuels: The fourth-year running back may be on his last legs with the team, at least as far as the 53-man roster is concerned. Even with the loss of James Conner, two notable additions and the possibility that they don’t even carry four running backs makes him tough to retain.

Trey Edmunds: Edmunds has stuck around, often on the practice squad, for three years now, but surely his time is just about up, barring injury. Often a special teams contributor, he hasn’t necessarily excelled even there.

Derek Watt: The sixth-year fullback is heading into his second season with the Steelers after signing as a free agent, and coming off of a disappointing year, in which he was bogged down by injury, missing four games. While he still finished with eight special teams tackles, he is capable of better play, and hardly got on the field on offense.

Players Added:

Najee Harris: A first-round draft pick, Harris is immediately the Steelers’ bell-cow, do-everything running back. He has wasted no time impressing his teammates and coaches with both his abilities and his work ethic.

Kalen Ballage: One of the Steelers’ few outside free agent additions, Ballage will be fighting to make the 53-man roster. If he is successful, it will likely mean that they decided to keep four halfbacks, as they did last year.

Players Lost: 

James Conner: A third-round pick in 2017, Conner has spent the past three years as the Steelers’ starter, though he has missed time every year. Though his efficiency numbers were within tolerable levels, he was not a transcendent talent the way Harris projects to be. Reportedly, they made no effort to re-sign him this offseason.

Notes and Camp Outlook: 

The primary focus will be on Najee Harris and watching him get acclimated to the game, but there is no suspense there. More globally, there will be a two-fold competition at the position, as those behind him not only jockey for position, but for how many positions there will be for which to jockey.

The general feeling is that Snell and McFarland are fairly safe, as is Watt as the fullback. But after they kept four halfbacks last season, Samuels and Ballage are expected to duke it out for a final roster spot. Both are capable of playing on special teams.

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