Training Camp

2022 Training Camp Grades: Running Back

For the rest of the preseason, we’ll give a recap, position-by-position, player-by-player of what I saw during the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp and preseason games. This list is based off the 16 public camp practices and the preseason games I’ve watched up until this point and is based solely off their performance then and does not necessarily represent my feelings for the players overall or during the regular season.

With that in mind, let’s continue with the running backs.

Jaylen Warren: One of the official Steelers’ training camp darlings, Warren is a bowling ball with legs, crashing into and through defenders. He doesn’t go around, he runs into you, and his legs keep on churning. He’s got great break-tackle ability and pushes piles forward. He’s short and thick with a small surface area to hit and defenders often bounce off him. Warren first created a positive stir during the team’s first backs on ‘backers drill. He not only stood tall but he thrived. Fearless is a great word to describe his all-around attitude and he’s a willing and generally effective pass protector, though he needs to play with a bit more control and less of a  “I’m going to ram my head into you and hope that’s enough” approach. His great conditioning is his most underrated trait, healthy and available all camp and seeing a heavy workload with injuries to Benny Snell, Najee Harris, and others. Warren led the team with 53 carries and in-game, he split time on offense and special teams. Warren was in-shape to be the guy and that’s the #1 thing he could’ve done.

Warren is capable of catching the ball well and he’s played with a hair-on-fire mentality on special teams on the kick and punt coverage teams. He loves to mix it up with guys and acts like a linebacker flying around, a true UDFA playing with a Napoleon Complex and massive chip on his shoulder.

His camp wasn’t perfect and ball security was an issue. He fumbled once in a tackling session and dropped a pass later that day while fumbling in the opener against Seattle, drawing Mike Tomlin’s ire. Beyond that, he was a little too loose with the football around the goal line, leading him to do the classic “carry the football around all practice” during the end of camp. Tomlin played it off as a natural thing all the backs do. They do not. But provided Warren doesn’t put the ball on the ground in Sunday’s finale versus Detroit, he’s a strong bet to make this roster and can hopefully be a recent example of a successful Steelers’ UDFA.

Camp Grade: A-

Anthony McFarland: Too little, too late for McFarland. That’s the way to sum up his summer. To his credit, McFarland enjoyed a solid start to camp through the opener, showing improved vision and consistency as a runner. He’s always one of the few to stay healthy wire-to-wire and he’s improved as a receiver, making some tough grabs on wheel/vertical routes. He finished camp with 108 yards receiving.

But he struggled in pass protection, lacking the anchor to hold his ground against power rushes, and he fell out of favor the final week. He carried the ball just four times over the final four practices and played third-fiddle in Saturday’s game against Jacksonville. McFarland saw lots of work in Pony/2 RB sets and seemed like a good fit in Matt Canada’s offense. But Jaylen Warren’s emergence seems likely to take McFarland’s job. He’s tried to add additional special teams value as a gunner but it didn’t go well and the only thing he’s bringing is backup kick return duty.

McFarland has the talent to be in a NFL room somewhere. But it doesn’t seem like it’ll be in Pittsburgh. Judged solely off his camp, it wasn’t bad. But the Steelers prefer their backs bigger with power and better pass protection and McFarland fails to check those boxes.

Camp Grade: B

Najee Harris: Not nearly as much to evaluate this year as last thanks to a foot injury suffered on the first play of the team’s full-tackle session during the first play of pads. Harris stepped on someone’s foot and wouldn’t return full until later in camp when things were ramping down. Harris carried the ball just 20 times this camp for an ugly-looking 2.6 yards per carry, though I put little stock into that number for him. Ball security was a little more of a problem for him though with one clear fumble and another that could’ve been argued as such at the very end of a play early in camp.

Harris did perform well in backs on backers. He’s so thickly built and strong that he’s impossible to run through and defenders have to try to go around him. For the second straight year, he’s in-line to be *the* guy in the Steelers’ offense and they need him healthy for 15+ games in order to compete. His camp evaluation was close to incomplete but there’s enough there to warrant a letter grade, though I expect him to be a top back once the games start to count. What he did this summer mattered less than last summer.

Camp Grade: B

Master Teague: Really bummed Teague suffered an ugly-looking ankle injury late in camp, awkwardly tackled along the sideline by Chris Steele in a run session. Teague showed fight all the way to the end, attempting to limp back to the huddle on a busted ankle before being pulled out of the huddle and carted off. Mike Tomlin initially called it a minor ankle injury but it was not. Signed mid-way through camp to replace Jeremy McNichols, Teague is a rocked up runner who looks more like a linebacker. He displayed a powerful lower half that led to explosive cuts and he ran hard with good pad level, charging forward and running through contact. He averaged a camp best 3.5 YPC on his 22 attempts and like Warren, displayed a high level of conditoning. He was a pure runner with little special teams value or receiving chops, he wasn’t even targeted during camp, much less caught a pass, but there was real practice squad intrigue with him. That’s no more. That’s training camp for you.

Camp Grade: B

Benny Snell: Snell missed a couple days of practice and the team’s preseason opener due to a knee injury but he made it back during the last week of camp and started the second preseason contest against Jacksonville. He is who he is at this point, a downhill runner with moderate power and a quality special teamer. It’s not a lot to get excited about but he’s carved out a niche on this team, the Steelers trust him, and Mike Tomlin loves him. He’s the latest Steelers’ fans want to push off the roster but he’s poised to stay as at least the #3 running back on the depth chart. That’d be the ideal spot for him. In camp, he had the second-most carries, 41, with three scores and was a checkdown option early on for Kenny Pickett.

Camp Grade: C+

Mataeo Durant: A semi-popular sleeper heading into camp, Durant was pretty quiet throughout. In moments, he showed burst and his 4.38 speed to gain the edge. But that’s about all there was to say positive about Durant’s game. Like his Duke tape showed, he doesn’t have a lot of power behind his pads. Perhaps he showed a bit more than I expected, he had two tough runs during the “Monday afternoon lights” practice at the stadium but overall, he went down easily. He was no match in pass protection, getting trucked and put on his butt one rep by Terrell Edmunds. He didn’t even catch the ball as frequently or as well as I expected, eight receptions for only 28 yards and at least one drop. During Saturday’s game, he awkwardly fumbled late in the game and got pulled out of the game.

Durant showed some fight on special teams and he works hard but the ways in which he wins is limited and he’s not the type of back Pittsburgh holds onto. If you’re under 200 pounds, you haven’t succeeded since the days of Willie Parker. Only injuries to the likes of Master Teague is opening the door for Durant to land on the practice squad but they could look outside the organization to round out the room.

Camp Grade: D+

Jeremy McNichols: McNichols didn’t even make it to the first padded practice, somehow suffering a fairly serious shoulder injury that landed him on IR. He finished camp with four carries for ten yards while catching three passes for another ten yards. Too little here to evaluate.

Camp Grade: Incomplete

Max Borghi: One of the final camp adds, he replaced the injured Teague. He carried the ball four times for two yards and one short touchdown while catching one pass on a hot route against the blitz. Don’t know much about his game. He’s small and doesn’t seem to possess a defining trait. He saw action on the kick coverage unit against the Jags but he’s likely to be cut, as soon as today as the Steelers trim their roster down to 80. He won’t be part of the organization come the end of the month.

Camp Grade: Incomplete

Previous Camp Grades

Quarterback Grades

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