With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are 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).
Topic Statement: Acquiring a number two running back should be a minor priority for the Steelers this offseason.
Explanation: Nobody worked their starting running back harder last season than the Steelers did with Najee Harris last year, their rookie first-round draft pick. While that is largely because of his own talents, it’s hard to ignore the potential factor of the team not having any other running backs they’re comfortable putting into the game.
Regardless of how talented Najee Harris is, how much he wants to be on the field, and how much the Steelers want to keep him on the field, the inevitable reality is that the cumulative affect of the snaps he plays and the touches he registers will harm him and his abilities in the long run.
Not everybody is Derrick Henry, who can seemingly regularly handle 20-plus carries per game. Harris isn’t physicality built like that, even if he is convinced that he is impervious to the physical constraints of such a workload at his young age. Regardless of how much hot yoga he might do.
And Benny Snell is not that guy. The only reason he had 100-plus touches in his first two seasons was because James Conner was injured. Some like to credit him with getting better as games go on and he gets more touches, but that’s not what you want in your backup running back. He needs to perform cold off the bench. And Kalen Ballage is a journeyman who averages under three yards per carry. Anthony McFarland might not even make the team. Their number two back this year really should not be someone currently on the roster. None of them measure up.
Even if we accept the premise that Harris can be overworked in terms of his own longevity, that’s not really a 2022 issue, and what we’re talking about is 2022—that is, how important it is to upgrade the backup running back position this offseason.
And it’s not. Look, let’s face it. Harris is probably going to play about 1,000 snaps in 2022 with around 400 touches. That’s just what’s going to happen. There isn’t going to be much room left over for anybody else. The second and third running backs will simply not be important. Not this year.
It’s never a bad idea to make any position group better, and the Steelers certainly could upgrade their running back room. But it would be going too far to call it a priority of any kind of significance. If they sign a veteran on the cheap, or if they decide that a Day 3 running back represents the best player available, fine. But that’s about the extent we’re looking at here.