Now that training camp is over with the Pittsburgh Steelers back in Pittsburgh and gearing up for what they hope will be a much more productive season, it’s time to take stock of where the team stands. Specifically, where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of training camp and the preseason and the regular season as it plays out. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning for each one. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: RB Jaylen Warren
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The rookie running back was the only member of the undrafted class to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster this year, along with all but their final draft pick among the rookie class. Warren will participate on special teams, but many also expect him to be seriously competitive for whatever snaps Najee Harris doesn’t actually play.
Undrafted free agents are ready-made underdogs. Whenever one of them shows some potential, it’s a quick process for fans to start rallying around and pulling for them, hoping for them to succeed as some diamond in the rough.
Sometimes they actually turn out to be just that. And Jaylen Warren certainly showed throughout training camp and the preseason that he was a player who deserved as spot on the 53-man roster. Nobody except for perhaps himself and those close to him really sweated out cutdown day wondering if he would make it or not.
The former JUCO transfer certainly hasn’t had the most conventional path to the NFL, but he’s here now. His story is history. Now he writes the future, and he’s on a much more even playing field with everybody else, because he’s earned it.
The issue is, naturally, finding snaps, because the Steelers have one of the very few true bell-cow backs in the NFL in Najee Harris, along with one of the very few head coaches in the NFL willing to use them as such—the other pair being Derrick Henry and Mike Vrabel in Tennessee, of course.
There has been talk of Harris taking more plays off than he did as a rookie, and the more encouraged the coaching staff is that they have backups who can come in without there being a stark drop-off in performance, the more likely it is that that actually happens.
The real question is who the next man up is. Could it really be Warren already? Or will the team defer to the veteran, Benny Snell Jr., whom the coaching staff likes significantly more at this point than the fans tend to?