The stats sheet from his NFL debut for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie UDFA Jaylen Warren might not be one to remember, but throughout Sunday’s 23-20 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium, the former Oklahoma State product showed time and time again within the game why he not only made the 53-man roster, but earned the No. 2 RB role under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Three carries for just seven yards isn’t anything to write home about, but in 23 snaps Sunday filling in for star second-year running back Najee Harris, who exited the game late with a nasty looking injury, Warren more than held his own, giving hope for a bright future for the small, strong running back.
Throughout Sunday’s game, Warren showed off his physicality and blocking abilities in pass protection and — surprisingly — as a lead blocker. He also showed off great effort late in the game and a high football IQ, which will have him earning praise in the film session this week in the buildup to the Week 2 matchup against the New England Patriots, a game in which Warren could have an expanded role depending on the health of Harris late in the week.
The first thing that jumped off the film with Warren was his ability to get out in space and land some punishing blocks on defenders as a lead blocker, specifically on jet sweeps in second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s scheme.
Early on, Warren was asked work out in front of Chase Claypool as a lead blocker, and he delivered in a big way. In the second quarter after a bit of a stagnant start that saw the Steelers go three-and-out twice and fail to take full advantage of great field position on a field goal drive, Canada got creative and called Claypool’s number on the jet sweep.
Warren did a fantastic job getting out of in front of him, looking inside for help before going back outside, landing a blow on Cincinnati safety Vonn Bell in space that allowed Claypool to pick up an additional 10 yards, which drew praise from teammates and coaches on the sideline immediately following the play.
Late in the game, Warren did a great job again tracking the defender and landing a punishing blow in space on the reverse to Claypool that picked up 11 yards and moved the chains. When on the move in space, especially from young players that aren’t asked to do it much, they can be overzealous, overrun the defender, or even fail to block anyone.
That wasn’t the case with Warren in these situations.
Look at the strike he delivers to Cincinnati linebacker Germaine Pratt in space, rocking the linebacker’s head back with a strike below the chin. Even after the big hit, Warren is able to stay engaged and drive Pratt toward the boundary, creating additional space for Claypool to move the chains.
It might go overlooked in the end, but Warren’s effort on the pivotal catch and throw to Pat Freiermuth late in overtime was fantastic and will undoubtedly earn him some praise from the coaching staff.
Look at Warren, top of the screen. He tries to get out in space to serve as a dumpoff for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, but once the veteran quarterback throws it to Freiermuth, you can see Warren sprinting 20 yards downfield trying to land a block on the Cincinnati defensive back in an effort to try and spring Freiermuth for the big gain.
There’s a clear want-to from Warren, one that has him going all-out on every play. He stated Monday that he relishes the physical part of the game and that showed up on Sunday.
Much like he was as a lead blocker on Sunday, Warren was very good in pass protection against the Bengals, dishing out some serious punishment to blitzing linebackers.
After having a successful showing in training camp at Saint Vincent College in backs on backers drills, Warren carried that over into the regular season.
Pratt is likely thankful he won’t have to see Warren for a few weeks.
Talk about delivering a blow to a linebacker’s chin. Wow. That made the rounds on Twitter Sunday and Monday from the TV angle, but this is quite the block from the All-22. That’s a fantastic coil and strike underneath the chin of the blitzing linebacker, knocking him down helping provide Trubisky with time.
Later on in the game on the throw to Freiermuth in overtime that set up Boswell’s game winning kick, Warren laid the boom on Cincinnati’s Logan Wilson, knocking him down as well in pass protection.
Little plays like that, which won’t show up in the stats sheet, will go a long way towards Warren not only sticking around in the NFL, but seeing an increase in playing time and responsibilities. If you can pass block at this level, you’ll stick around awhile.
Based on what Warren showed in his NFL debut, he’s up for the challenge and has embraced some of the responsibility. Quite the debut for the UDFA.