Seven Running Backs Who Could Be On the Steelers Radar This Summer

General Managers are always on the hunt to acquire more talent to the roster. This offseason has been busier than what we are usually used to with the roster. This year there have also been numerous changes to the front office. Jonathan Heitritter has talked about some potential free agents to add to the offense. For this exercise I am going to look at the current rosters of other teams to look for players who could be on the outside looking for a job when the cuts commence at the end of training camp.

Looking at the current roster there are areas where the Steelers could be looking to add a player or two. I am going to start this series off with the running back position.

The leader of the pack is Najee Harris and he epitomizes the term of bell cow back. He had nearly four hundred touches and nearly 1,700 yards from scrimmage while playing 980 snaps (84%) in his rookie season behind a porous offensive line. He took a lot of hits. The Steelers have a history of getting all they can out of a running back and then moving on. Getting him more rest would be ideal for him and the team but saying they want to get him rest it is one thing and doing it is another.

Benny Snell Jr. is the primary backup and lighting rod among fans. First they wanted him to get leaner but used him as short yardage back. Then they wanted him to be quicker. He has done all they have asked. When given the opportunity to play and get significant carries he has performed like a backup should. In eight games where he received at least 15 touches he averaged 18.8 touches and 88 yards per game. That would be over 1,400 scrimmage yards over the season. Me personally, I think he is a suitable backup but I know many disagree.

Anthony McFarland has just 43 touches in two years and has no value on special teams. Also on the roster are Trey Edmunds who was a reserve RB/FB on the practice squad and rookies Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren. The hope is either McFarland and/or one of rookies can be a useful player but time will tell.

Here are some candidates that could be worth looking at.

#22 Duke Johnson – Buffalo Bills – 5091 210 Age: 28

RB Depth in Buffalo– Devin Singletary, James Cook (R), Zack Moss, Taiwan Jones

Buffalo base salary – $1,120,000

Johnson played at The “U” in Miami and in three years put up over 3,500 yards rushing and 700 yards receiving while totaling 30 touchdowns. After coming out as a junior he was drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns.

This season will be the eighth in the NFL for Johnson. He spent four years as a Brown playing in every game with ten starts. Specializing as a receiver out of the backfield he averaged 59 receptions per season with eight receiving touchdowns. He next played in Houston for two seasons playing 27 games with seven starts adding 72 more receptions and four touchdowns. Last season he played sparingly for Miami but started the final four games and had two one hundred yard rushing games.

He signed with Buffalo this off season to compete for a spot. Singletary is the lead back there with Moss being slotted right behind him. They added James Cook from Georgia in the second round of this draft and expect him play a role as a receiving back. Veteran Jones rounds out the group and he played over 300 snaps on special teams.

#37 Myles Gaskin – Miami Dolphins – 5092 194 Age: 25

RB Depth in Miami– Chase Edmonds, Sony Michel, Raheem Mostert, Salvon Ahmed, Gerrid Doaks, Zaquandre White (R)

Miami base salary – $2,540,000

Gaskin played collegiately at Washington where despite his size he was a workhorse. Over his four seasons he had 945 carries and over 5,300 yards rushing with 57 touchdowns. As a receiver he hauled in 57 receptions for 465 yards and another 5 touchdowns.

He was a seventh round pick of the Dolphins and has started 17 or 34 games played in his three season. On a team that has been less than lackluster he put up solid numbers rushing for 1,329 and seven touchdowns while accumulating 97 receptions for 673 yards and six touchdowns.

Miami changed their head coach and revamped their running back room adding Edmonds, Michel and Mostert with the latter coming from the same team as their new head coach. Ahmed came from the same school and is of similar size as Gaskin and a cheaper price. Throw in the two young backs and someone will have to go. Gaskin has the second highest salary of the running backs on the Miami roster and that could aid in their decision.

#25 Ty Johnson – New York Jets – 5106 210 Age: 24

RB Depth in New York – Breece Hall (R), Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, La’Mical Perine, Zonovan Knight (R)

New York base salary – $965,000

The second Johnson on this list played for the Terrapins at Maryland. Speed was his calling card reportedly running in the 4.35-4.40 range while tweaking a hamstring in the pre-draft process. He ran for over 2,600 yards and 17 touchdowns while averaging a robust 7.6 yards per carry. He also was a good kick returner averaging 24.9 yards per return with two touchdowns. The Steelers brought him in for pre-draft visit in 2019.

He was a sixth round pick by the Lions spending 1+ seasons there playing in 18 games with one start. He ran for 273 yards and caught 24 pass for Detroit before waived in October 2020. The Jets scooped him up off waivers the next day and he has since played 27 games with four starts. He has run for just under 500 yards and caught 50 balls. In 2021 he has his best year as a receiver with 34 receptions and 372 yards.

The Jets have a lot of youth at running back drafting Carter last year, Perine in 2020 and Hall this year. Coleman is a quality veteran who has ties with offensive coordinator going back to his San Francisco days. Johnson did a solid job as a receiver last season playing 40% of the offensive snaps but he’ll have to fight for a spot in camp.

#30 D’Ernest Johnson – Cleveland Browns – 5105 208 Age: 26

RB Depth in Cleveland – Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Jerome Ford (R), Demetric Felton

Cleveland base salary – $1,065,000

Johnson number three on this list was an undrafted free agent out of South Florida in 2018. While there he split time in the backfield but managed just fewer than 1,800 rushing with sixteen touchdowns. As a receiver he averaged 12.5 yards per reception on 72 catches with another dozen touchdowns. He was also an all-conference return man averaging 24.4 per kick return and 10.3 per punt return.

Being undrafted didn’t deter Johnson. He has played in every game in his three years and got the first two starts of his career in 2021. He stepped up in those two starts with 168 and 157 total yards from scrimmage versus Denver and New England respectively. Overall, he has averaged 5.3 yards per rush and 7.9 yards per reception with three total touchdowns. He also average 24.8 yards per kick return and has played over 500 special team snaps. He was re-signed to a restricted free agent tender early in June.

Johnson filled in nicely when needed but Chubb and Hunt are lead backs. Felton was brought in as a hybrid RB/WR in 2021 and despite limited usage they should be still looking to utilized him. Ford was a day three pick after a big year for the Cincinnati Bearcats and should earn a spot.

#1 Jerick McKinnon – Kansas City Chiefs – 5087 205 Age: 30

RB Depth in Kansas City – Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ronald Jones, Derrick Gore, Isiah Pacheco (R), Tayon Fleet-Davis (R), Jerrion Ealy (R)

Kansas City base salary – $1,035,000

McKinnon was a versatile player who played quarterback at Georgia Southern. He was part of a run heavy offense that saw him run for over 2,800 yards in his last two seasons. He earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl that helped him become a day two selection.

Drafted in the third round by Minnesota he continued to show off his versatility over his 58 games and 14 starts. He had over 500 yards rushing in three of his four seasons and caught 142 passes. After leaving Minnesota he signed a four year deal with San Francisco that saw him miss more time than he played with no appearances in 2018 and 2019 due to and knee issues. In Kansas City he was used sparingly within the season (172) snaps before starting all three playoff games.

Edwards-Helaire has been solid in his two seasons and bringing in Jones fits the speed element of the Kansas City offense. Gore showed he was capable when given the opportunity averaging five yards per carry. The Chiefs brought in three rookie running backs through the draft process while McKinnon was still a free agent. They resigned him in mid-June. He performed well in the playoffs but is that enough to keep a 30 year old running back with so many younger options?

#22 Ameer Abdullah – Las Vegas Raiders – 5086 203 Age: 29

RB Depth in Las Vegas – Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Brandon Bolden, Zamir White (R), Brittain Brown (R)

Las Vegas base salary – $1,035,000

Abdullah was a very productive collegiate back with over 4,500 yards rushing, nearly 700 receiving and 46 touchdowns. He also excelled in the return game with 26.1 yards on kick returns and 10.2 on punts with two total return touchdowns. Despite being undersized the Detroit Lions took him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

He was seemingly underutilized in Detroit in his 3+ seasons but topped 500 yards rushing twice and had 55 total receptions crossing the goal line nine times. Waived in November of 2018 and picked up by division rival Minnesota where he played 41 games in 2+ seasons. He never started a game and received just 66 touches between the regular season and playoffs. Released in October of 2021 he was picked up by Carolina were he had 44 carries and had a career season high 35 receptions in eleven games. Over his career, he has average 25.4 yards per kick return.

He signed with Las Vegas in March the same day they signed Bolden. Jacobs and Drake seem to be cemented in and they added White and Brown in the draft. Bolden and Abdullah may be fighting it out for one spot.

#32 Chris Carson – Seattle Seahawks – 6002 222 Age: 27

RB Depth in Seattle – Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Walker III (R), Travis Homer, Deejay Dallas

Seattle base salary – $4,500,000

Carson was a relative unknown coming out of college and proved to be a diamond find in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. In his two years at Oklahoma State he rushed for just over 1,000 yards total with 13 touchdowns. He had 30 career receptions adding another touchdown.

Seattle grabbed him at pick number 249 being used sparingly in year one before he busted out in 2018 with 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns. To this point in his career he has rushed for a touch more than 3,500 yards and 24 touchdowns. He is a solid receiver as well with a career high of 37 twice in a season and 107 catches in his career for 804 yards and seven more touchdowns.

This one is a bit of a long shot and there are many factors involved. Most importantly is he was limited to four games last year due to a neck injury. He has not been cleared yet but has a check-up coming in a couple weeks that could be a good indicator. Penny came on strong at the end of last season and Walker was a high draft pick. Homer is a very good pass protector and third down back and the Steelers should jump all over him if he somehow gets released but it seems like Seattle likes him. Carson has the sixth highest cap hit on the team and that could also affect the decision to keep him.

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