Safety. Slot receiver. And of course, quarterback. Those are among the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest needs. But backup running back is a sneaky issue, and one Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola believes will be addressed in the near future.
In his Tuesday Asked and Answered segment on the team site, Labriola believes the team will add to the position through the draft or free agency. He wrote the following responding to a question of it the team needs more depth behind Harris.
“I believe the Steelers will look to strengthen the running back depth behind Najee Harris before the end of this offseason. It could happen during the draft if the right opportunity presents itself, or in free agency. There is no need to wait until after June 1.”
Harris has already proven to be a workhorse running back, who made so much chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what last year that Kirby Wilson wants to give him ownership of the Maulers. But behind Harris exists little in the way of a true and capable runner. There’s Benny Snell, a dependable special teamer but someone who offers little as an offensive threat. Anthony McFarland’s still on the roster but has been a disappointment two years in, dealing with a knee injury early last year that set him back when he got healthy. Kalen Ballage remains a free agent and offers even less than Snell as a runner, while lacking significant special teams value.
Adding a running back behind Harris would be a pragmatic move. Especially with Ben Roethlisberger retired, the offense will lean and revolve around Harris even more. If he got hurt, or the times when he simply needs a breather, there can’t be a substantial downgrade in talent. It’s the biggest downside Mike Tomlin’s workhorse mentality. That fine line between having “one guy” to dominate the carries but the risk in losing him, especially at a position like running back, where players get hurt weekly and few stay healthy over the course of an entire season (though Harris mostly managed that feat in 2021).
The draft will be the most immediate and cheapest place to find a backup. We haven’t conducted our “what they look for” study, but just using a quick baseline of backs who are 5’11”, 220+ pounds, names who “fit” include Michigan’s Hassan Haskins, USC’s Keaontay Ingram, and Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr.
Haskins is the most likely name to be drafted by Pittsburgh, a former linebacker who flipped to running back but plays with the aggression of his defensive background. He’s also arguably the best pass-protecting back in this year’s draft. Robinson replaced Harris at Alabama but might require too early of a pick to select him, while Ingram transferred from Texas and put up healthy numbers in 2021. We’ll have that full study on the site later this week.
As Labriola notes, an addition may not come through the draft. It could come via free agency, though the list of names available aren’t impressive and will be older and potentially more expensive. It’s why a cheap draft pick, or trying to hit on a UDFA, makes the most sense. Regardless of avenue, adding a #2 behind Harris is on the list of team needs.