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Steelers 2021 Training Camp Battles: Who will be the man backing up Najee Harris?

With the 2021 NFL Draft a thing of the past, we look ahead to some training camp battles facing the Steelers this season.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Handout Photo

The Pittsburgh Steelers are still in the early stages of the 2021 offseason, but with the 2021 NFL Draft over the attention now turns to the regular season. There are steps along the way, mandatory minicamp, Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and training camp, but the position battles which will take shape throughout the offseason are worth discussion.

Sure, things could change between now and the start of training camp. Injuries, acquisitions and players emerging can alter the outcome of these battles, but there will be several key battles taking place. In this series, myself and Dave Schofield will be giving our analysis and prediction for each training camp battle which will unfold at some point this offseason.

Today we take a look at a position/battle for the Steelers’ offense. The battle to backup Najee Harris at running back between Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels and Kalen Ballage.

There is a lot to this camp battle, and a lot of it depends on how the Steelers plan on deploying their first round pick. Will the Steelers use Najee Harris as a three down back right out of the gate, or will the ease him into that work load?

Who wins the battle? Dave and I give our predictions below, but be sure to let us know what you think in the poll below, and be sure to explain your vote in the comment section!

Jeff Hartman

Analysis: There is no doubt Najee Harris will be the starter at running back, but how the Steelers handle the players behind Harris will be a fun camp battle to watch. Many of the prediction below will be based on how I think the Steelers will handle Harris’ rookie workload. For instance, if the Steelers want to ease Harris into his inaugural season, then I see a bigger role for someone like Snell. However, if Harris is the man out of the gate, the Steelers will have some tough decision to make for players who are backing him up. Not an easy call...

Prediction: In regards to this prediction, I see this playing out with Harris being the three down back from the start of the season. The Steelers don’t like a running back by committee approach, and that won’t start now. With that being said, I see Snell’s role decreasing, with McFarland’s role increasing. Snell will be used if/when Harris needs a breather, and McFarland will be used as a change of pace style running back. As for the rest of the group, it will be a battle between Ballage and Samuels to fill out the running back depth chart. I think the Steelers keep four running backs, and with Harris, Snell and McFarland front runners to make the team, it will be up to Samuels or Ballage to round out the position group.

Dave Schofield

Analysis: I agree with Jeff on the overall hierarchy of the Steelers running back room. There’s basically three tiers. Tier 1 is Najee Harris. Tier 2 is the ‘Juniors’ in Benny Snell Jr and Anthony McFarland Jr. Tier 3 is everybody else trying to fight for what might be one roster spot, if that. The only way this changes is if a Tier 3 player totally outshines someone in Tier 2 and the Steelers simply consider moving on.

Prediction: I’ve got to go with Benny Snell here based on the Steelers actions with him. Despite the two players being drafted two positions apart in their respective drafts as Benny Snell was 122 and McFarland was 124, these two players have not been implemented the same. Benny Snell missed three games his rookie year while his knee was scoped and returned to start for the Steelers Week 12 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals where we had 98 yards on 21 carries. Snell was also one of 10 NFL running back’s who appeared in all 16 games in 2020. As for McFarland, he was inactive for four games and did not see a snap in another. This does not even include him being inactive for the playoff game. The most rushing attempts he saw in a game his rookie season was six. Based on this, the edge goes to Snell to start the battle until McFarland can show he moves ahead. I simply didn’t see enough last year to think that he will. Add in Snell’s 381 career special teams snaps to McFarland’s zero and Snell brings more to the table to be in the role that Steelers would like from a guy taking a spot on game day.


Who will win this Steelers Training Camp battle at RB?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Anthony McFarland
    (330 votes)
  • 54%
    Benny Snell Jr.
    (558 votes)
  • 3%
    Jaylen Samuels
    (33 votes)
  • 8%
    Kalen Ballage
    (91 votes)
  • 1%
    (20 votes)
1032 votes total Vote Now

Other Training Camp Battle Breakdowns: