What happened to the Steelers vaunted rushing attack?
Pittsburgh tied for 27th in the NFL last season, the second lowest total in the history of the franchise. They averaged just 3.5 yards per carry for the year. While all the draft talk has been focused on getting a "tall receiver", finding a talented running back to team up with second year back Le'Veon Bell should also be a priority.
Bell came on strong after missing the season's first three games due to injury. He rushed for 860 yards that included a 124-yard effort in the team's win over Green Bay in Week 16. Bell finished strong, toting the rock at least 20 times and averaging over 23 carries in the team's last three games, all wins.Bell also helped bolster the Steelers' passing game, hauling in 45 passes for 399 yards.But Bell did suffer a concussion in Week 13 at Baltimore, and while he was able to return the following week, having a capable back ready to shoulder the load when called upon would help Bell and the Steelers offense.
With the Steelers currently without any other running back on their roster under contract, what are their options?
Free agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew will command too much money. Knowshown Moreno also wouldn't be a cheap addition and will most likely desire a starting position. Willis McGahee would be an affordable choice though age and injuries are the question mark with the former Bills, Broncos and Browns running back.
Looking at the draft, Ohio State's Carlos Hyde could be what the Steelers need to help solidify their backfield. At 6'0 and 230 pounds, Hyde is a strong back that could team with Bell to wear down opposing defenses. He became coach Urban Meyer's first 1,000-yard back despite missing the season's first three games. Hyde rushed for 1,521 yards for a stellar 7.3 yards per carry average to go with 15 touchdowns. He had nine straight 100-yard games to close out the year that included 226 yards against Michigan and 118 yards (on only 18 carries) against eventual Big 10 and Rose Bowl champion Michigan State.
CBSSports.com's draft evaluation on Hyde stated that the Naples, Florida native is: "Well-built from head to toe and is at his best running with a head of steam, lowering his pads and pounding forward. Powerful North/South runner. Combination of power and drive, refusing to be stopped. Some fluidity to his 240-pound frame to wiggle out of tackles, showing an excellent ability to absorb hits while continuing to pump his legs. Can turn on the jets when he needs to win the edge."
Hyde is slated to be picked in the middle of the second round, meaning the Steelers could still draft their receiver in the first round and grab Hyde in the second without spending too much. With Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Antonio Brown and a new first rounder at receiver and with Bell and Hyde in the backfield, the Steelers already potent offense could be as dangerous as ever in 2014.
It's clear that the NFL is a passing league now, but Seattle and fellow NFC power San Francisco have shown the league that there still is a place for strong, punishing running games. Quite a few of the more recent Super Bowl champions had two-man backfields, most notably the Giants in 2007 and 2011. Hopefully, the Steelers take notice and make the necessary moves to ensure that their tradition of smash mouth football on both sides of the ball remains in the Steel City.