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The state of the Pittsburgh Steelers Running back position

Breaking down every Steelers position group before we hit free agency.

Detroit Lions v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and NFL for that matter, have officially hit the offseason. With a month before contracts officially expire, and the new league year begins, the Steelers will need to start game planning their future.

In this series we will look at every position group of the Pittsburgh Steelers and what the team will do with the players that were on the 2021 roster, and how they should rebuild the spots heading into the 2022 season!

The second position on our list is the running back position. Possibly the most improved position the Steelers featured between 2020 and 2021, the spot will be held down by Najee Harris for the foreseeable future, but there are still tons of bodies around him that might be moving parts.

The 2021 Roster

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Najee Harris (3/4 years 2.96 Million)
Benny Snell Jr. (1 year $1.14 Million)
Anthony McFarland jr. (1 year 1.07 Million)
Kalen Ballage (UFA)
Derek Watt (1 year $4.7 Million)
Trey Edmunds (1 year $895 Thousand)

The Pittsburgh Steelers struck some gold when they selected Alabama running back and Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. The rookie running back set a number of Steelers rookie records including rushing yards in season, receptions in a season, and receptions in a game. Earning Pro Bowl accolades along the way. He was everything the Steelers could have hoped for in a running back, he managed to stay healthy for the entire season, and he was successful on the ground despite a lackluster offensive line. Harris made himself a building block for the future for this team and will carry the load for the foreseeable future.

As for the rest of the running backs, the same success could not really be achieved. Anytime Benny Snell Jr. or Kalen Ballage entered the game, the Steelers offense lost some of its already dim spark. On top of that, the player that was thought to be the Steelers primary back up tumbled down the depth chart. This player being Anthony McFarland Jr. who might even be on the chopping block this offseason. The level of running back play the Steelers got out of their back ups simply was not good enough. Considering how some teams found veterans for minimum dollars and got way more out of those players, the Steelers should consider some changes behind Najee Harris.

To speak briefly on the fullbacks, Derek Watt saw more use in year two then he did in year one with the Steelers. That still doesn’t mean too much, however, because his playing time on offense was minimal at best. Nonetheless, don’t write him off because he is still one of the best special teamer players in all of football, and he rightfully deserves a spot on this roster. Hopefully his role on offense continues to expand because he can help the team every time he was on the field.

Should they look to add a player

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers absolutely should look into upgrading their running back position behind Najee Harris, and considering their love affair with having brothers on the team they could look to add another fullback as well. I believe the Steelers should wait on the free agent market and sign a running back later in the free agency process which will come on a veteran minimum deal with past experience of actual success, not just bottom of the barrel scraps like Kalen Ballage.

As for that brotherly connection, I would be in favor of the Steelers bring in dynamic fullback/offensive and special teams weapon Connor Hayward. The younger brother of All-Pro nose tackle Cam Heyward, the Steelers could find more success in reuniting brothers like they did with the Edmunds family and the Watt brothers. I wouldn’t just bring in Conner Heyward for the name value, he was a true play maker at Michigan state and deserves the opportunity in the NFL regardless of who his brother is.

How should the group look in 2022

NFL: SEP 26 Bengals at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To me the running back depth chart is pretty simple. Najee Harris sits undoubtedly at the top and will once again look to carry 90% of the running back workload. The RB2 spot is one where I want them to look for that cheap veteran, like what Jerick McKinnon provided to the Kansas City Chiefs. Minimum dollars and high production is the name of the game here. Behind that, I’m okay with Benny Snell rounding out the running back room, but nothing above that level for him again. As for the fullback spot, Derek Watt is undoubtedly at the top of that depth chart, but I still hope they look to add Connor Heyward, but use him in a variety of positions including running back, fullback and sprinkle in some tight end. On top of all that, he will also add value on special teams. You can never have too many weapons that can play in multiple areas of the game, and that’s what Heyward would bring to the Steelers.

But what do you think? What should the Steelers running back position look like at the start of the 2022 season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Check out the other position previews below: