While it would be fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 roster looks set at several positions, there are still a handful of starting roles yet to be decided and a number of backup up roles remain up for grabs.
Over the coming weeks, BTSC editor Jeff Hartman and myself will take a look at some of the more obvious key names that will be fighting position battles throughout minicamp, OTAs and training camp later in the year, each taking a different side in the fight and providing our thoughts on why our pick will be the winner. On Friday we weighed in on the impending battles between quarterbacks Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, today we move onto the running backs.
Jaylen Samuels vs. Benny Snell Jr.
Much like the duo fighting for the right to be the backup quarterback, this battle will be fought by two players selected a year apart, with the marginally more experienced player taken a round later in the draft one again. Expected to be used as part of a running back by committee approach, based on the comments of Mike Tomlin earlier in the offseason, both players should see more action than reserve backs have traditionally seen in the Steelers system as of late.
Intentions aside, James Conner will still see the bulk of the carries in any rotation and it seems more likely that Samuels and Snell will see action in specific situations as well as mop up duty towards the end of a game if the Steelers are running out the clock.
Samuels was something of a revelation when forced to start in placed of an injured Conner in Week 15, running for 142-yards off 19 carries against the New England Patriots and his efforts as a receiver over the final few weeks of the season were also notable. If Snell is to claim the backup role from Samuels, he will need to prove to the coaching staff that he can be relied on as both a receiver and a pass protector as a rookie - a daunting task for any first-year player.
I believe the Steelers are on the verge of transitioning from a feature running back to a running back by committee approach, but I don’t believe 2019 will be the year this actually takes place.
Samuels played well spelling Conner in 2018, but with such a small sample size it is tough to truly predict how he would do in a larger role in 2019. As for Snell Jr., a rookie is purely a guessing game. No one knows how he will play in the NFL, but if he can duplicate some of the success, and style, he displayed at Kentucky there is a good chance the team will have added a very good complimentary back.
But back to the question at hand. Samuels or Snell? Barring a huge preseason, and impressive training camp, I see Samuels being the primary backup to Conner, but I also feel all three backs will have their role in the offense. Samuels to be the Swiss Army Knife who can be flexed out in the flat, and Snell more of a downhill runner who could be used in short-yardage situations.
Benny Snell Jr. may have been one of the experts favorites heading into the draft and a dominant runner in the SEC, but he will have to show far more than an ability to run the ball if he is to leap frog Jaylen Samuels on the depth chart this offseason. The former North Carolina State product was not able to elevate himself above Stevan Ridley until mid-season in 2018 and it is hard to imagine Snell making the transition as a rookie much faster this year.
With his former college running backs coach now in charge of his position group in Pittsburgh, Samuels should have a head start in terms of his familiarity with the new man in charge and should already have a much better idea of what Eddie Faulkner will be looking for from his players.
Given his prowess around the goal line for Kentucky, Snell could yet find himself the man in short yardage situations, but Samuels’ proficiency as a third-down back should see him end the year with more carries and snaps than Snell. Expected improvements in his pass protection after his second training camp should only further cement his place as the backup to Conner. If Snell is to make the job his, barring a regression by Samuels, he will need to have an exceptional preseason.
Who wins this camp battle?
This poll is closed
Benny Snell Jr.