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Fowler: RB Jaylen Warren Could ‘Be Featured More’ Post-Bye Week

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has graduated to the national NFL beat but as a former Pittsburgh Steelers reporter, his words still carry weight. Heading into the weekend, Fowler dropped this nugget in an ESPN article on how the Steelers may tweak their offensive plans going forward. Here’s what we wrote:

Jaylen Warren has earned more snaps at running back, and even though Najee Harris will remain a focal point, don’t be surprised if Warren is featured a little bit more. The onus is on Mike Tomlin and OC Matt Canada to spark an offense that ranks 28th in the league (298.8 yards per game).”

During the bye, Mike Tomlin shot down the notion of making any coordinator or coaching changes. If Pittsburgh is going to make adjustments, it’ll have to come via personnel. Fowler is careful to note Harris will still be the starter, something RBs Coach Eddie Faulkner confirmed during the off week, but is clearly hinting Warren will see his role expand.

If that’s true, it’d be a continuation of his role in the Steelers’ offense. Warren has gone from relative-unknown undrafted rookie to impressing and sustaining in the summer, making the roster, and climbing the offensive ladder. He replaced Harris as the team’s third-down back in the Week 5 game against the Buffalo Bills and his snap counts have hovered around 30%, a number Faulkner said he was aiming for on a weekly basis. Here’s his snap count percentage over the course of the year.

Week 1 – 37%
Week 2 – 29%
Week 3 – 20%
Week 4 – 25%
Week 5 – 51%*
Week 6 – 31%
Week 7 – 23%
Week 8 – 29%*

*Blowout losses

Pittsburgh’s kept that number pretty consistent. Warren’s touches have waned and as a third-down back, is subject to blocking, chipping, or serving as a check-down option. So perhaps Warren’s snap count doesn’t need to raise dramatically but his early-down work could increase, thus bringing up his touches. His North/South running ability is the best fit for an offensive line struggling to get a consistent push and an offense just looking for even an average run game. Even removing garbage time carries, Warren’s yards per carry is over a full yard higher than Harris while all advanced metrics give the edge to Warren.

Beyond the Claypool trade that will open up more snaps for Steven Sims and others, it’ll be interesting to see what other personnel tweaks the Steelers make coming out of the bye. There don’t seem to be a lot of obvious moves. Quarterback won’t change, tight end won’t change, and while the offensive line may deserve to see rotation, there aren’t any quality backup options to turn to. Perhaps veteran Jesse Davis could get a look at left guard over Kevin Dotson, the more veteran and technical player, but that would be a lateral move at best.

What’s obvious is the Steelers need to turn their offense around. The only good news they received this weekend is they’re no longer the NFL’s worst offense. Thanks to the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh is now 31st in points per game.

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