clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Building the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 backfield

The Steelers need to add some juice to the running back position

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers need to fix some serious issues in their backfield this offseason. This isn't an issue they can really brush off for another season. The Steelers can, and will, help these guys by injecting some new blood into their offensive line, but they still need something different in the backfield. But at the end, of the day, the Steelers still had the lowest total rushing yardage in the league and the lowest yards per carry. A team cannot justify not improving the position with stats like those.

Let’s start off with the backs currently on the roster. I anticipate NFL rosters going back to normal next year and shrinking its practice squad size. That means the Steelers wouldn’t have any use in keeping Wendall Smallwood on the roster. Next, Jaylen Samuels rarely played as the team’s fourth runner will have a hard time holding onto a roster spot. Anthony McFarland Jr. showed great explosive ability, but lacked the vision of an NFL runner. McFarland will be on the team, but more likely in a scat-back type role. Benny Snell Jr. fell out of favor with the Steelers coaches after his 100 yard performance way back in Week 1. To be honest, I can't see the Steelers carrying four running backs again, and with a poor training camp Snell could be cut or traded. Lastly, that leaves free agent James Conner. Conner has never made it through a season 100% healthy, nor has he ever cracked 1,000 yards on a season. However, with the value of a running back at an all-time low, and Conner being a Pittsburgh guy, I can see him playing on a home town discount contract.

Here’s the thing with Conner, if he comes back he will be the teams 1B to whomever they select in the 2021 NFL Draft. As far as returning players go, I predict it will be Anthony McFarland and James Conner as the back ups to somebody completely new to the roster. That new guy, in my opinion will come to the Steelers by virtue of the second round. Before I get to who that player could be, I should reiterate the importance of improving the offensive line and doing so in the first round.

There is one running back that checks every box the Steelers like when they draft players. Javonte Williams, from the North Carolina University, is an underclassmen that's just 20 years old. On top of that, he only has 416 NCAA touches in his career. He has a ton of tread left on him and if you're going to invest any high draft capital into a running back you better be able to get at least his rookie deal out of him. Williams has breakaway speed unseen in the Steelers backfield since Willie Parker. Standing at 5’10” and weighing in at 220 pounds, Williams also brings the power running game. He’s the combination of size, speed and power that teams drool over, and he has patience compared to that of Kansas City Chiefs running back Le’Veon Bell...

If it was up to me, James Conner and Javonte Williams would be a one-two punch in the backfield until Williams becomes the feature runner. McFarland, can play as the Jet motion, occasional third down type back, and if his vision develops can be the change of pace runner to pair with Williams in the future.

What do you think? What will the Steelers backfield depth chart look like come Week 1? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.