2022 Training Camp Battles: Backup Running Back

With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2022 season.

Unlike last season, which was carried out through a pandemic, things should return much closer to normal this year, including a relocation back to Latrobe, which should help provide us with clearer insights into where people stand. Which is a good thing, considering how many outstanding questions there are both in the starting lineup and within positions.

Position: Running Back

Up for Grabs: Backup

In the Mix: Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr., Mataeo Durant, Jaylen Warren, The Field

Is the Steelers’ backup to Pro Bowl running back Najee Harris currently on the team’s 90-man roster entering training camp? Well…probably. But maybe not. Pittsburgh as much as about any other team in the league is open to tinkering with its roster during training camp via the acquisition, often via trade, of veteran depth.

As it stands, fourth-year running back Benny Snell Jr. is in position to resume the role of direct backup to Harris, who led the NFL in touches last season as a first-round pick out of Alabama in 2021. Snell had his worst season so far, accompanied by his lightest workload.

The biggest issue with Snell as a backup running back to a bellcow starter is the fact that he is the type of running back who needs time to warm up and get reps under him. That’s not what the Steelers need in their backup. They just need somebody who can come in and take 5-10 quality touches per game off of Harris’ plate.

Can Snell do that? He didn’t, really, last year. He has done better in the past, but his best work has tended to come in games during which he was the primary runner, or became the primary runner due to an in-game injury.

But the rest of the running backs on the roster have done either nothing or so little that it might as well be nothing. Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren are rookie undrafted free agents. Anthony McFarland Jr. is going into his third season as a former fourth-round draft pick, but has achieved nothing as a professional running back worth mentioning here during that time.

That’s why I just can’t help but leave the option of ‘the field’ as a compelling one in this discussion. Even though my mind tells me that they are going to end up with Snell as the backup, I just can’t dismiss the possibility that they pick somebody up here. Six running backs (including Trey Edmunds) isn’t necessarily heavy for the position for a training camp session, anyway.

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