On the eve of report day for Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, the black and gold made a surprise roster move, cutting veteran running back Trey Edmunds, opening up a spot on the 90-man roster ahead of the start of training camp.
The move was a curious one, but one that showed the Steelers were finally going to address the depth chart behind second-year standout running back Najee Harris. On Tuesday morning the Steelers did just that, signing veteran running back Jeremy McNichols to a one-year deal, bringing in a veteran to try and grab a backup role behind Harris.
Though he’s jumping on a moving train late in the process leading up to camp, there’s a real opportunity for McNichols to grab hold of a key spot behind Harris, competing against the likes of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland, not to mention undrafted free agents Jaylen Warren and Mataeo Durant in training camp.
The Steelers got an up-close look at McNichols in 2021 when he was a member of the Tennessee Titans. Against the Steelers at then-Heinz Field in 2021, McNichols carried the football six times for 26 yards, and added three catches for 25 yards in a reserve role. That showing, along with his overall NFL experience, had the Steelers circling back with him late in the summer, adding an experienced veteran to a room that needs some juice behind Harris entering the 2022 season.
Ramon Foster, a former Pittsburgh Steelers left guard and current radio host in Nashville, appeared on 93.7 The Fan Tuesday afternoon with the PM Show team of Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller and spoke highly of McNichols, though he did raise some concerns about his ability to stay healthy.
Signing on with the Steelers is a “land of opportunities” for McNichols, according to Foster. However, one major concern Foster has with the Steelers signing the former Titans’ backup running back is the fact that McNichols has struggled to say on the field throughout his time in the NFL, dealing with injuries often.
“Jeremy McNichols, man, you’re getting a guy that can catch out of the backfield, has speed, but his issue was…just trying to get right [health-wise] That was the one thing that he battled from the time he got here and the time that I was covering that I have been covering the Titans too,” Foster said to Fillipponi and Mueller, according to audio via 93.7 The Fan. “It’s just, you knew he had attributes. You know he had weapons as far as being able to do stuff on the field, but he couldn’t stay healthy.”
McNichols has played just one full season, which came in 2020 when he appeared in all 16 games for the Titans, recording a career-high in rushing yards with 204 and one touchdown on 47 carries that season. In 2021 though, McNichols saw action in just 14 games during a season in which Titans’ star running back Derrick Henry missed significant time with an injury.
Prior to his time in Tennessee, McNichols saw action in just two games with San Francisco in 2017, and one game each with Indianapolis and Jacksonville in 2018 and 2019. Now in Pittsburgh, there’s a real opportunity in front of McNichols to not only stick on the 53-man roster with the black and gold, but grab the top spot behind Harris in a season in which the Steelers would like to lessen his workload a bit.
“He’s a great personality. He’s a guy that’s a go-hard type of person. It’s about the opportunities. It’s about him being able to be on the field and consistently be on the field,” Foster added, according to audio via 93.7 The Fan. “Y’all know Pittsburgh is land of opportunities, man. That’s how I got my jump into this league, too. Coach Tomlin will understand and give you that opportunity to get right and show your talents and display ’em for everybody to see, or he’ll find himself on another team or cut during camp if he stays healthy. He’s the guy that can challenge that number two or number three running back position.”
Ideally, that’s what happens with McNichols. While Snell is a strong special teams player and has certainly flashed at times when given starting responsibilities in the backfield, he’s not an ideal No. 2 behind Harris. McFarland certainly is the change-of-pace back that makes the most sense behind Harris, but he struggled to stay healthy in 2021 and hasn’t shown much on the field.
Warren and Durant are intriguing, but having a UDFA behind Harris as a backup right away is a bit concerning. That’s where McNichols comes into the fold. He’s a replacement-level runner that has great hands out of the backfield and can be a viable passing-down option in Pittsburgh.
That said, he is well below average in pass protection, and offers very little on special teams. He’ll have to make his case for the roster as that receiving threat, which the Steelers currently don’t have behind Harris in the backfield. Here’s what our own Jonathan Heitritter had to say about McNichols in his film room Tuesday breaking down the Steelers’ latest signing:
“Overall, Jeremy McNichols has the size (5’9, 205lb) and skill set to be a scat/satellite back that does his best work in passing down situations. He has proven to provide a spark here and there as a rusher but doesn’t have the vision nor the tackle-breaking ability to provide more than replacement value in that regard. With being a virtual zero on special teams, McNichols will have to prove that he can be more consistent as a pass protector to earn snaps in the preseason and secure a roster spot as he likely battles to be RB3 with Anthony McFarland Jr., Mateo Durant, and Jaylen Warren.”