Explaining What Jaylen Warren’s Opportunity Actually Means

One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. That’s the phrase Mike Tomlin uses this time of year. When injuries pile up, when lines get short, young guys, those on the roster fringes or looking outside of it getting extra reps to show they belong.

But what exactly does that mean? Running back Jaylen Warren is a great case study for it. Undrafted out of Oklahoma State, he entered camp at the back of the depth chart. With Najee Harris (foot) and Jeremy McNichols (shoulder) currently out of the lineup, Warren has moved up the depth chart. And his opportunities have increased. In quantifiable terms, here’s what that looks like.

I went through my charting of yesterday’s practice and compiled the number of carries each healthy Steelers’ running back, Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Mataeo Durant, and Warren, received throughout practice. Here are the numbers with their yardages attached because hey, we might as well look at that, too.

Jaylen Warren: 6 carries, 25 yards
Anthony McFarland: 5 carries, 30 yards
Benny Snell: 5 carries, 12 yards
Mataeo Durant: 3 carries, 6 yards

McFarland has the most yards (aided by one run when the O-line pushed him another five yards), but Warren crucially has the most carries. He also chipped in a reception for four yards, and he would’ve had another carry or two had it not been for other issues, like one botched handoff.

Now, six carries compared to say, Durant’s three, might not sound like much. But that doesn’t even take into account overall reps, which I don’t have tracked, but Warren was right up there in. It also doesn’t consider the extra reps Warren got in the 1v1 drills. In RB/LB coverage work Tuesday, Warren got six reps compared to Durant, who received just four. Consider the fact there’s only so many reps to go around, 55 in team, another 20-25 total in 1v1 drills, and the difference between two or three versus six carries is large.

If the group was healthy, if McNichols and Harris were practicing, Warren wouldn’t have gotten all those chances. In fact, over the first three practices we logged, days #1, #3, and #4, Warren had only three carries combined. Granted, those practices weren’t in pads and naturally focused on the passing game because of it, but still, Warren doubled that output just by what he did yesterday. His overall play was good, but more importantly, he’s getting the chances. He’s learning, growing, making mistakes, not repeating them, and putting himself front and center on the tape. No one makes the team standing on the sidelines. You need grass stains to make the club.

That’s what the RB lines being short is doing for him. That’s why it matters. Intuitively, we all know that injuries create chances elsewhere, but for the first time, we’re putting the numbers to it. The increase in reps is noticeable, and Warren will ride this wave as long as he can.

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