Going from a UDFA afterthought into a key No. 2 running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers playing significant, meaningful snaps was quite the development for running back Jaylen Warren.
Entering training camp as no less than the sixth running back on the depth chart, Warren had a long road ahead of him, as far as making he roster, let alone the practice squad. Day after day though, Warren impressed and really caught the attention of the coaching staff — especially head coach Mike Tomlin — letting his play do the talking.
The talking coming from his play was rather loud, leading to him not only making the 53-man roster, but earning the job behind second-year running back Najee Harris. Eventually, Warren worked his way into the third-down role as a strong receiving back out of the backfield and as a rather dominant pass blocker overall.
Reflecting on a rookie season with Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley that saw him rush for 379 yard and a touchdown and add 214 receiving yards, Warren called the experience a “huge blessing” and a “dream come true” going from UDFA afterthought to key contributor.
“It was a huge blessing,” Warren said to Varley regarding his rookie season rise and production. “It was a dream come true. Honestly, I guess I never viewed myself as someone who would play a huge role on an NFL team. I came in doing what I could. As time went on, they trusted me more and put me in those critical situations and I think I showed they can trust me in those situations.”
Coming out of Oklahoma State, where he rushed for 1,216 yard and 11 touchdowns following two seasons at Snow College and then Utah State, Warren was certainly an intriguing UDFA that the Steelers scooped up. However, he was in the same UDFA class as Mataeo Durant, who was generating significant buzz entering the offseason in a backfield that had major questions behind Harris.
Turns out, Warren was the guy all along.
The explosiveness was rather noticeable right away in training camp. He consistently ran hard behind his pads, fell forward at the end of runs and routinely made plays. He quietly went about his business and just caught the coaching staff’s attention and never let the eyes wander elsewhere.
The challenge for Warren was going to be carrying that impressive showing in training camp and the preseason over into the regular season. That ended up not being a problem for the diminutive back as he pushed Harris for playing time right away, and then helped form a rather strong 1-2 punch with Harris down the stretch as the Steelers went 7-2 after the Week 9 bye, finishing the season 9-8.
His rookie season was certainly a dream come true for himself, and a huge blessing overall. It was a huge blessing for the Steelers, too, that Warren chose Pittsburgh over other offers he had as a UDFA, too.