2023 Offseason Positional Review – Running Back

It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.

The Steelers have several key players due to become free agents shortly, and a number of large contracts could be salary cap casualties, so a lot will be changing in the near future, but this is where things stand, at each position, as of this writing.

Position: Running Back

Total Positional Figure: 7

Additions: 0

Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

Under Contract:

Najee Harris: Had a tale of two halves in 2022, spending most of the first half of the season recovering from a Lisfranc foot while waiting for the offensive line to gel. When both of those situations improved, so did his performance. He ran with great physicality in the second half of the year while carrying a fairly heavy load, though the explosive plays are still lagging.

Jaylen Warren: A diamond in the rough, Warren emerged in training camp as a rookie free agent and earned himself regular playing time. He ended up logging about a third of the offensive snaps and totaled over 500 yards from scrimmage, the first undrafted player to do that for the Steelers in some years.

Anthony McFarland Jr.: Demoted to the practice squad largely because of Warren’s emergency, McFarland nevertheless kept ready and did perform in the one game he got called up from the practice squad, picking up 41 yards from scrimmage on eight touches.

Master Teague: The Ohio St. rookie back had a fan following in training camp, but an injury saw him waived in mid-August. After he healed, the Steelers signed him to their practice squad in late November. Though he only lasted a couple weeks there, they kept his number apparently because they still signed him to a Reserve/Future contract at the end of the season.

Jason Huntley: A fifth-round pick of Detroit’s in 2020, Huntley has played in six career games, totaling 70 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches. The slight back was signed to the practice squad at the start of September after cut by the Eagles and lasted there the entire season, minus one week in October, later returning on a Reserve/Future deal.

Pending Free Agents:

Benny Snell Jr.: The four-year veteran saw his fewest opportunities in 2022, again as with McFarland due to the emergence of Warren. He only saw offensive snaps in a small handful of games but proved capable of contributing when he did get on the field, scoring the game-winning touchdown against the Colts. He also posted a career-high eight special teams tackles.

Jeremy McNichols: A six-year NFL veteran (though with only three credited seasons due to playing time), McNichols spent the 2022 season on the Steelers’ practice squad after getting hurt in the first week of training camp with a shoulder injury. He spent the entire season there, and is now due to be a restricted free agent.

Additions: N/A

Deletions: N/A

Offseason Strategy:

With the top two positions secure, general manager Omar Khan has already strongly hinted at the obvious, which is that running back will be rather low on the priority list. They still have McFarland as a past 53-man contributor, and seem likely to re-sign Snell. They could re-sign McNichols as well (though not as a restricted free agent), and Teague is a potentially enticing prospect. At most, they may add a veteran-minimum free agent and/or sign a back or two as a college free agent after the draft. A late-round player at the position could be considered a longshot.

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