I know, it’s crazy, right, the headline of this article?
After all, we’re talking about Benny Snell Jr. We’re talking about the effervescent running back from Kentucky we began to talk in absolutes about the moment the Steelers made him their fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. We’re talking about the youngster who coined the phrase“Benny Snell Football” and made us begin to fall in love with him the second he started to interact with the media in the offseason and we discovered his personality matched that infectious smile of his.
We’re talking about the guy who tantalized us with his production and running style the moment we sat down and studied his college resume.
How could that guy not make the final cut in the days following Pittsburgh’s fourth preseason game on Thursday night against the Panthers? As it turns out, the 8 carries for 12 yards he posted just wasn’t good enough.
And he didn’t do much of anything through the first three preseason games either, one of which he missed due to injury. The two previous games Snell did play in, he managed 20 carries (not bad for a fourth-round rookie) for 42 yards (yikes).
That kind of preseason stat-line might be overlooked when it’s from a first, second or even a third-round pick. But when you start inching toward the middle rounds, that’s where the ice is just a bit thinner.
I realize this might all seem crazy, considering James Conner is clearly Pittsburgh’s number one running back on the depth chart, and Jaylen Samuels, he of the evident huge leap from his rookie year to this one, is second. OK, so why would Snell get the ax?
Maybe because the team might like Trey Edmunds and/or Malik Williams better? That looks silly when you read it in text (or even say it out loud), but when you get past the first two running backs on the depth chart, what difference does it make?
“Exactly!” you might say to me in the comments section. OK, fine, but when you get past the first two running backs on the depth chart, what’s the difference between a fourth-round pick and a couple of undrafted free agents?
This is where the value of a draft choice matters. How much did the Steelers invest in Snell Jr. compared to the other guys?
I know this all seems mean, and that I’m going out of my way to disparage a young rookie who may or may not read this (probably not), but I’ll have you know that, next to the obvious, Devin Bush, I was looking forward to watching Benny Snell Football the most this preseason.
After all, I’m from Pittsburgh, and we like running backs (it’s written in our DNA). I wanted to see how Snell’s straight-forward, tenacious and downhill running-style, a style that produced over 3800 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns in college, translated to the NFL. That’s an easy thing to look forward to for a layman football fan. You see the guy take the football. You watch him run through the hole. You jump for joy. And in my case, you write an article about how he’s the next Barry Foster or whatever.
Instead, the only highlight that has resonated with me this preseason is a tackle Snell made on special teams.
In defense of Snell, he hasn’t necessarily had a fair shake with regards to the hogs that have been blocking for him during his time in the lineup. Very good point, but I’m pretty sure Fred Gibson, a receiver the Steelers picked in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft, rarely, if ever, got a chance to play with the ones during his rookie season. I remember being quite excited about Gibson, a 6’4, 202-pounder from Georgia. I wasn’t the only one. People considered him a bargain, a steal. According to Gibson’s Wikipedia Page, Bruce Arians, the Steelers receivers coach in those days, thought Gibson had “great upside,” and that his “height, speed and the ability to go long” would serve him well at the pro level.
He didn’t make the team. He didn’t make any team over the next few years, not even in the NBA—he played in one of its developmental leagues—before calling it quits.
Does this all mean Snell Jr. isn’t going to make the team, even if he plays at Carolina and lights it up ?
It doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, he probably will make the team. Snell Jr. may just be a fourth-round pick, but he’s the Steelers fourth-round pick and their latest one.
When it comes to such things, the tie almost always goes to the draftee and not the undraftee.
But is there a tie between Snell and those other Steelers running backs who are perhaps lower on the totem pole?
By merit, there isn’t a tie. Could that spell doom for Benny Snell Jr.?
If it does, it wouldn’t be a total shocker.