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BTSC Draft Forum: Running Back Seen as a Mid-Round Option in the 2012 NFL Draft

In the second part of our Draft Forum series, we dig into the running back position in the draft as well as free agency. The days of the Workhorse Back are behind us, and with guys like Fred Jackson, Matt Forte and DeMarco Murray rushing and catching passes to a high degree of success, value in both player addition markets seems abundant.

The Steelers face an interesting dilemma at that position. In what looked to be a pretty stable group going into 2012 in January turned into perhaps the most anticipated training camp competition when RB Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in Week 17. His availability for the start of training camp is all but gone, and he could even miss the start of the regular season. Also, veteran RB Mewelde Moore is a free agent, and 2011 7th round pick Baron Batch (a guy our panel loves) is returning from an ACL tear of his own. How will all of these things factor into the running back position this offseason?

Background: RB Rashard Mendenhall tore an ACL on the final game of the season. Recently, General Manager Kevin Colbert said he "never feels good" about the health of a player for a year after the injury. While it's possible Mendenhall plays this season, free agency and the draft will occur well before any definitive word on Mendenhall's availability will come.

Question: Considering the current depth of running backs (Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Baron Batch), do you feel his injury makes that position a priority in the draft and/or free agency? Will any effort be made to re-sign veteran Mewelde Moore?

RB is always a position that front offices around the NFL are looking to fill with cheap talent, and that doesn't change with us. Although our need isn't as pertinent as other teams, I believe it would be beneficial to add a faster, change-of-pace RB on day 3 of the draft. IMO unless Batch's knee can't hold up and we cut both Clay and Dwyer, Mewelde Moore's days as a Steeler are numbered. Some prospects I would target are: Cyrus Gray (Texas A&M), Ronnie Hillman (San Diego State), Tauren Poole (Tennessee), and Adonis Thomas (Toledo).

- Parris Brantley

The Steelers have sworn by their ability to find running back talent both inside and outside the draft since Willie Parker, an undrafted back from North Carolina, exploded through the league. While it may not be a need, the amount of talented backs Pittsburgh has produced over the last eight years, and the frequency in which they've brought them in, suggests strongly they'll be looking late in the draft for a diamond in the rough.

Is it really worth it, though?

The Steelers should be OK at the running back position in 2012. They have enough horses in the stable to give the team production in the running game.

While it's nice to have a back with big play ability, the Steelers offense doesn't need big plays from their backs to stay on schedule. In the same interview, where Colbert discussed Mendenhall's prognosis for the 2012 season, he also stated that Redman has "established himself as an NFL running back". That's all the endorsement I need, regarding Redman's ability to top the depth chart at RB.

Although I would have liked to have seen more, I was encouraged by what I saw from Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay, and that was with no work in the off season. That won't be the case heading into 2012, and I'm sure both will get much more attention during the off season. The real wild card is Baron Batch. Worst case scenario, he can become a solid replacement for Mewelde Moore. Best case scenario, he turns out to be a poor man's Ray Rice, and becomes the Steelers primary back this season.

- Greig Clawson

Batch was lauded for his willingness to block before tearing his ACL in training camp, and showed a strong ability to step up and stone pass rushers. Pass blocking is a major factor in a young running back's ability to get on the field. If he can't do it, opponents will see that and be able to key on the offense's intention when he's out there.

Batch is still a wait-and-see prospect, let's not forget he was a 7th round draft pick. He'll compete basically as a rookie in this camp against a positional group that all saw carries this season.

And that's before the draft, which could see the Steelers add a dynamic athlete who may not have first-round size or speed, but a more underrated trait: pass catching ability. RB Dexter McCluster had 41 catches in Todd Haley's offense last year. Jamaal Charles had 45 in 2010.

I really do not feel like running back should be a priority in the draft. Personally, I think Redman can be just as productive as Mendenhall. He does not have burner speed, but I think he fights for extra yards on "tough" carries better than Rashard. He has more of that "fall forward" style that I used to love in Bettis (no he is not "The Next Bettis").

Additionally, I still have pretty lofty hopes for Batch (see Moore not resigned). The kid was making waves in camp and I hope that carries over to this year. Furthermore, I read somewhere that Haley does a great job with pass catching backs. So, as far as the draft goes, I don't see them investing a 1-4 round pick on a RB, but I wouldn't be surprised if they took a late speedster to add another dynamic.

- John Stephens

Because of his presence (and low price tag), the Steelers will give Batch the opportunity to compete for Moore's spot in training camp. Moore won't be re-signed immediately, but could return if Batch or anyone else underwhelms.

Speed kills, though. You can never have enough of it. If that kind of running back is available on Day 3, I think they'll pull the trigger. Considering Redman and Clay both were products of the Steelers' practice squad, and Dwyer spent his rookie season inactive for nearly every game, bringing in another back through the system seems to work well.