The Steelers have a vaunted offense. We all know this to be true. This year might just be the best offense out of all the elite offenses of the past five years, though. Randy Fichtner has come in and has changed the red zone and third-down fortunes for the Steelers. The WRs continue to shine under Darryl Drake. Richard Mann may have retired, but Mann looks to be a rather good WR coach as well.
Of course, Mike Munchak is the praised assistant coach, and rightfully so. Munchak is the best assistant coach in football and churns out elite OL like they are a dime a dozen. He has turned guys like Ramon Foster into pro bowlers from UDFAs, and his first rounders become all-pros.
However, there might be an elite position coach that gets lost in the shuffle behind the shadow of Munchak. He is Steelers’ RB coach, James Saxon. I have no clue how he gets lost in the shuffle so easily. This guy churns out productive running backs like Munchak does OL.
Let’s take a look into the impressive history of James Saxon, who you might not have known was this good.
His first tenure was with the Kansas City Chiefs, in which he had three great RBs, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, and Tony Richardson. From 2001-2007, he had an 1250 yard rusher each year, including the year where Holmes set the NFL TD rushing record at 27. His RBs combined for a total of 71 100-yard performances and combined for 7 pro bowls. He developed Johnson and helped Holmes elevate his game to an even higher level.
Then, Saxon headed to Miami where he met the backfield of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. Saxon was an innovator of the wildcat, in which Ronnie Brown ran incredibly well. Brown made a pro bowl, and Williams had a career revival when he topped 1,000 yards in 2009.
After that, he headed to Minnesota and united with Adrian Peterson. That, to say the least, was one of the deadliest pairings I have seen. He helped AD get back on his feet and rush his way into an MVP award in 2012 when he returned from his torn ACL. I should also mention that he developed an all-pro fullback there in Jerome Felton.
So, in comes James Saxon to Pittsburgh. In his first year in 2014, he helped Le’Veon Bell become Le’Veon Bell. Not only did Bell ascend that season as a pass protector and receiver, but he was notably more receptive to his line. Saxon coached up all of Bell’s weaknesses and made him the best RB in football. The very all-pro RB you all know right now as Le’Veon was created because of this man, James Saxon.
When Bell would get injured, he helped re-invigorate an appeared washed DeAngelo Williams into becoming a bonafide star once again. Williams had over 1,000 scrimmage yards and showed receiving ability that he had not flashed before. Of course, he got hurt before the playoffs, but even in the playoffs, Saxon got the most he could have out of Fitz Touissant. Touissant developed into a decent RB. He was never great, but he at the very least became a good RB3.
On top of all that, he developed Roosevelt Nix into a pro bowl FB. Saxon has been great in developing raw pass protecting or run blocking RBs / FBs into fantastic players. Nix is no exception.
Now, we come into this season, where a Saxon product, Le’Veon Bell has decided to stay away from the team for contract reasons, and it thrusts second year RB James Conner straight onto the scene. And.....Conner becomes the second best RB in football? No, seriously, this season only Todd Gurley has been better than James Conner. Conner already has over 1,000 scrimmage yards in eight games and is on pace to break the Steelers franchise record for total TDs by a RB.
Last year, Conner was a vision-deprived, inconsistent with hands, raw pass protecting, RB that could not play three downs. Now, he is one of the best RBs in football and possibly better than Bell.
You have to credit one guy for this amazing growth — James Saxon.
Saxon, as his track record shows, has been perhaps the best RB coach in the NFL. His RBs have gone to the pro bowl 14 times, and have made the all-pro 5 times. Conner might just tick those numbers up one. I cannot stress how good Saxon has been. Jaylen Samuels has already shown growth in his vision and feeling comfortable as a RB. Saxon is already working his magic with him.
So, while we love Mike Munchak, don’t forget that this staff also as the best RB coach in the NFL, or as I like to call him, the RB whisperer, James Saxon.