Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 offseason began, improving the running attack has been a top priority. When it comes to the running back position, the question wasn’t if the Steelers would draft a running back, but who and with what pick.
But what if the Steelers decide to skip drafting a running back in 2021?
That’s just crazy talk! If the Steelers expect to improve their running game, something has to change. But is the right change available to the Steelers in this year‘s draft?
Yesterday, BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman laid out the case for the Steelers selecting a running back with their top draft pick.
I admit, I’m not against this decision at all. If the Steelers think they have the right guy at pick 24 to rejuvenate the running game, I hope they pull the trigger.
But are the Steelers convinced this is the right move?
I’m not saying the Steelers shouldn’t draft a running back. I will tell you I hope they don’t have a repeat of the 2020 NFL draft where I felt the Steelers needed to either “go big or go home” when it came to the running back position. If they weren’t going to invest high draft capital, I thought they were better off not addressing the position at all. If the Steelers pour another fourth-round draft pick into the running back room for 2021, is it really going to be helping the problem?
The Steelers have been represented at various pro days for some of the top running back prospects for 2021. It was wise for them to do their due diligence. But simply because the Steelers were there does not mean they are comfortable with picking any of the players with their first round pick.
Since 1990, the Steelers have only invested one first-round draft pick at the running back position, which was Rashard Mendenhall in 2008. In 2013, the Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the NFL Draft. In the last 30 years, those are the only two running backs selected in the first two rounds of the draft by the Steelers. I’m only bringing this up to show this is not a position at the Steelers choose to invest in with a high draft pick. While it feels different in 2021, it might be hard for the Steelers to break their tradition.
The ultimate question ultimately comes down to if the Steelers feel any of the running back options are suitable picks at the 24th selection. Should the Steelers reach for a player they don’t feel was worthy of their top selection? What if another player they have ranked extremely high is still available for them to pick instead?
What could be even worse for the Steelers is if they don’t feel any of the running backs are worthy of the 24th selection, but I also do not believe they will be there with their next pick at 55. What if the Steelers only have running backs they feel will improve their rushing attack which they believe will come off the board between picks 35 and 40? Do they trade up, or trade back?
There are so many questions involved it seems there’s no way we could have the answers. The only ones that will have these answers are the Steelers front office and coaching staff, and they would be wise not to tip their hands.
So what do the Steelers do if they decide not to take a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft? Frankly, the Steelers have enough players to fill up their depth chart at the moment. Whether or not those players are good enough to get the job done is the real question.
Chances are, the Steelers would find themselves looking to the free agent market with some of the limited options remaining in order to bolster their running attack. Of course, one player still available is James Conner, but do the Steelers really want to give the exact same running back room the same shot in 2021?
Of course, there are other free agent options available as well. Players like Duke Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are still without a team for 2021 and could be brought in if the Steelers feel it is a better option than what the rookie class could give. In fact, if the Steelers were to make a move to sign a running back between now and the draft, it would most likely tip their hand that they are no longer looking at the position.
I know many Steelers fans are convinced the Steelers will be selecting a running back with one of their top draft picks in 2021. And the Steelers may very well do so. But if they aren’t sold on their options, the Steelers should draft players they are more convinced will improve their team for 2021 and beyond.
Frankly, I’m fine if the Steelers draft a running back with their first selection of the 2021 NFL draft. If they do so, I want it to be because they felt it was the best player for them to take in that spot. But if a player no one expected to be there at 24 is still sitting undrafted and the Steelers end up taking a running back simply because they need one, it will set the franchise back so much more than not addressing the running back position at this time.