With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: The Steelers should draft a running back as they shift to a more run-oriented offense.
Explanation: While Pittsburgh has a potentially effective one-two combo in the backfield with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, the Steelers could be shifting to a more run-heavy offense. The running back position is one of attrition, and we did see both Harris and Warren get banged up in 2022.
The Steelers are rebuilding the offensive line into a more physical unit, and I expect that to be further addressed in the draft. They are not going to ask quarterback Kenny Pickett to consistently put the ball in the air 35-plus times per game—not if they can actually have a successful running game.
And, as often as not, being successful on the ground means having insulation and insurance against injury. Both Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren got hurt last year. We saw how often James Conner before them got banged up. The Steelers can’t put all their eggs in one or even two baskets.
And Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr. are not the answer. Don’t be fooled by their small-sample output against poor run defenses or defenses that were banged up at the time. The Steelers were fortunate to find Warren last year, but they can’t count on the scattershot approach again to add another talented back to the arsenal.
The odds of cumulative running back injuries seriously affecting more than one or two games per season are fairly low, and there are enough veteran backs on the market. The real answer here is the beefing up of the offensive line. All of the backs should have more success behind the line this season.
While it wouldn’t be a bad idea in theory to draft a running back, the reality is that the Steelers don’t have a ton of draft resources. If it makes sense at a given point in the draft to do it, then fine, but they certainly shouldn’t go into the weekend planning to take one. I mean, there’s Phillip Lindsay playing in the XFL right now. Just sign him.