Run them until the wheels fall off...
If you recall, this statement, or something similar, was uttered by Mike Tomlin when referring to the usage of their running backs, in particular Willie Parker. While Tomlin said this, his team has certainly followed this trend when it comes to handling their running backs the past few years.
Whether it was Willie Parker being run until his wheel broke, literally, or Le’Veon Bell’s ridiculous amount of touches, James Conner seemed to be on a similar path in 2018. However, when he left the game vs. the Los Angeles Chargers with a high ankle sprain it opened the door to the potential of Jaylen Samuels. Fast forward to the 2019 NFL Draft, and the Steelers acquisition of Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr., and the Steelers suddenly have multiple weapons in the backfield.
Could this change the team’s philosophy on using running backs? Will keeping a player like Conner healthy be of the utmost importance? Kevin Colbert suggested a change when he visited with ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio:
Kevin Colbert was asked if the team is moving in more of a committee direction with Conner, Jaylen Samuels and fourth-round pick Benny Snell. Colbert said that “each one of them will make the other ones better” and that the team wants to get the most out of all the backs unless someone makes it clear they should be the clear No. 1.
“I really think that depends on who that player is,” Colbert said. “When we drafted Le’Veon, we certainly didn’t have that idea that he would be the featured guy. He forced that with his great play and he was that good, he was durable and he wanted to be on the field. James does too, but you also have to understand if you have two or three guys that can maybe get the same production then let’s make sure we’re covered and have the proper depth.”
Colbert said he thinks Conner and Snell have similar styles while Samuels may offer the team more in the passing game. How they’ll deploy the three will be something to watch once Snell starts working with the team this month.
The Steelers’ stable of running backs heading into 2019 certainly would lend itself to using more than just one featured back. But before going any further, if you think Conner won’t be the RB1 on the depth chart — think again. Conner proved he is more than willing, and able, to do what is necessary to be a featured back, but he also has yet to play a full 16-game season in his young NFL career. Keeping him healthy for the long haul is paramount for the team moving forward.
If you were the coach, how would you divide the work load, and how would you ultimately utilize Conner, Samuels and Snell? Let us know in the comment section below!