Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: RB Jaylen Warren
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Warren went from a training camp longshot to a key offensive contributor by the end of his rookie season as a college free agent. The fact that he got Mike Tomlin to consent to a snap distribution in the backfield speaks volumes about how highly the team regarded his skillset.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has had a well-earned reputation for most of his coaching career. He’s a one-back guy. He’ll grind a back into the ground if he has a true bell-cow type. Unless, perhaps, he has two, a seeming modification for the 2022 season.
Even though Najee Harris more than proved that he was physically capable of handling the load, he shared it. Moreso and moreso as the season progressed. Because rookie college free agent Jaylen Warren earned those snaps.
One could argue that the Steelers have had other capable running backs in the past whom Tomlin did not use to their full capacity. Veterans like DeAngelo Williams and LeGarrette Blount come to mind. But whatever the reason then, Tomlin didn’t employ it last season.
Warren ended up logging 342 offensive snaps even though he missed a game and a half, about 31% of the offensive playing time. And he saw an upward trajectory throughout the year. Excluding the game in which he was injured and the game in which he returned, he logged over 20 snaps in nine of his final 10 games.
Oh, and he produced when he played, too. He rushed for 379 yards on just 77 carries, averaging almost five yards per carry, with one touchdown. He also gained 214 yards on 28 receptions, and his tape shows a host of ‘effort’ plays that he made on his own, not what was blocked for him.
Of course, his playing time was truly earned because of his willingness to dedicate himself completely to the job in all aspects. An eager blocker and a student of pass protection schemes and blitz diagnosis, he earned a third-down back role around midseason.
That helped to keep him on the field and led to increased opportunities for touches. That figures to continue to into a distribution of touches next season between himself and Harris as the Steelers look to exploit a hopefully revitalized running game.