2023 Pre-Draft Movements – Running Back

We started this series with a little over two weeks until the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Steelers had a number of notable starters hit free agency this year, and their retention success rate was mixed, re-signing Larry Ogunjobi but losing Cameron Sutton, for example. Largely, however, what they lost they replaced, adding Patrick Peterson in Sutton’s stead.

They also had another active year in outside free agency beyond replacing missing pieces, or voluntary departures, such as Myles Jack. The most notable move was Isaac Seumalo being signed along the offensive line. While Terrell Edmunds is gone, Damontae Kazee was retained and Keanu Neal was added. Likewise, Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts come in and replace Devin Bush and Robert Spillane.

The team did not have to make drastic moves in order to get into cap compliance, but they did release two high-salaried players in linebacker Jack and William Jackson III, the latter of whom never dressed for them. As of now, they have restructured only one contract to create cap space, that being Minkah Fitzpatrick, though restructuring T.J. Watt later this offseason is very possible.

Position: Running Back

Total Positional Figure: 5

Offseason Additions: 0

Offseason Deletions: 2

Players Retained:

Najee Harris: Harris’ second season can probably be fairly described as a disappointment as a whole, but it also has to be viewed in sections. The first half of the season saw him playing through a Lisfranc injury, with a metal plate in his shoe for most of that time to stabilize his foot. And the offensive line was newly put together with a new line coach. The second half of the season was much better. He rushed for 673 yards after the bye with seven total touchdowns.

Jaylen Warren: A college free agent rookie a year ago, Warren opened eyes during training camp. Normally you expect such Cinderella stories to lose steam, but his didn’t. The coaches liked Warren so much that they started giving him some of Najee’s snaps. He became the third-down back and finished with nearly 600 yards from scrimmage. He should pick up where he left off in 2023.

Anthony McFarland Jr.: A 2020 fourth-round pick, McFarland was relegated to the practice squad last season largely due to Warren’s emergence. Yet he had the best offseason of his career, and he looked better in the one game after he was elevated from the practice squad and got playing time. He could potentially be the number three back this year.

Master Teague: Another rookie college free agent, though not one of the Steelers’ original signings, Teague quickly became a fan favorite because of his cool name and large build. But the reality is that we’ve seen very little from him. But the Steelers brought him back even though he got hurt, so they must have liked something about him.

Jason Huntley: A former fifth-round pick of the Lions with 62 career snaps, Huntley was signed to the Steelers’ practice squad at the beginning of the season. He remained there for most of the year, only missing a week due to positional shuffling needs. He was retained on a Reserve/Future deal.

Players Added: N/A

Players Deleted:

Benny Snell Jr.: A four-year veteran who has gotten very little opportunity to play the past two years, Snell at this point is primarily a special-teams player. He did show better offensively last season in limited touches than he looked in recent years. He could potentially be re-signed to compete for the third running back role.

Derek Watt: We’re including fullbacks here because it’s not worth writing up an entire article for one person. And Watt was primarily a special teamer. He may be brought back on those grounds. But he could also be replaced, both there and at fullback, by Connor Heyward. If he does get re-signed, it’s likely to be closer to a minimum salary than the more than $3 million per season figure of his last deal.

Notes And Draft Outlook:

It’s been awhile since the Steelers have had a pair of running backs with whom they are as comfortable as they seem to be in Harris and Warren. After all, head coach Mike Tomlin is known for his workhorse backs. While they went into the season with the hope of distributing more of their starter’s snaps, they found a willing and able participant in the unheralded Warren.

With a desire to run the ball more, and more effectively, however, the Steelers may require a stable of more than two robust options in the backfield, leaving one to wonder how they will address the position for the remainder of the offseason.

Although it’s not news everyone will want to hear, it is certainly a possibility the Steelers will draft a running back in a couple of weeks. It won’t be particularly early, considering they already have their one and two, but they were down to their number four back at one time just last season, so they know how much attrition plays a role here.

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