Heading into the 2022 season, much of the focus within the backfield of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the running back position had quite a bit to do with the black and gold needing to find a competent second option behind second-year star Najee Harris.
Not because Harris couldn’t handle a heavy workload, but because the Steelers needed to ensure that Harris was going to be able to make it through the entire 2022 season healthy while attempting to limit his workload some.
In stepped rookie undrafted free agent Jaylen Warren, who has taken his opportunity and run with it for the black and gold, emerging as a legitimate No. 2 option behind Harris, drawing praise from teammates and coaches alike, though his fumbling issues haven’t.
Despite a fumble on Thursday night on the road against the Cleveland Browns, Warren had a really strong game, ripping off 30 yards rushing on four carries and had an explosive play called back on a shovel pass in the third quarter for an ineligible downfield penalty on right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor.
Still, he showed just how good he can be as that change-of-pace guy behind Harris, which has new starting center Mason Cole believing in the rookie UDFA, as well as the backfield overall.
“I think our backfield’s awesome. I think Jaylen [Warren] is a really good changeover from Najee [Harris],” Cole said to reporters Monday from inside the locker room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “I think Najee is this big powerful back and, and is really successful for us and then we throw Jaylen in there and he is kind of smaller, twitchier. He’s just a good one-two punch and I think it’s been cool just in three games to see him elevate his play and get more touches and have more success.”
Warren has had some success early in his career, rushing 11 times for 52 yards and has added a real element in pass protection, much like Harris did as a rookie, bringing physicality and consistency in that area of the game, earning trust from his coaches and teammates when on the field.
Moving forward, he’ll have to clean up the issues with fumbling, as he’s put the ball on the ground twice now, including in the preseason, which has drawn some ire from head coach Mike Tomlin. Still, as Cole has stated, the belief is high in the backfield with not only Harris, but Warren as well. It’s a good 1-2 punch at the moment, and should only get better as the season progresses.