Poor Benny Snell Jr.
In just three years, he’s gone from a guy who some hoped could possibly be a starting running back in the NFL, to a guy who isn’t even considered trustworthy enough to be a backup behind Najee Harris.
And we all know how much Mike Tomlin hates to use backup running backs once he has a Najee Harris. Being concerned about the Steelers' running back depth right now is like worrying about your spare tire when you know darn right well your current tires are the fancy run-flat kind (I believe Mini Coopers have them).
Anyway, as the Steelers begin to gear up for the 2022 campaign, there is a bit of a concern in some circles about the depth at running back behind Harris. Snell, a fourth-round pick out of Kentucky in the 2019 NFL Draft, is listed as the top backup. Behind Snell is Anthony McFarland Jr., a fourth-round pick out of Maryland in the 2020 NFL Draft. Mataeo Durant and Jaylan Durant, two 2022 undrafted free agents, round out the depth chart at running back.
After the initial excitement because of his speed and his college connection to offensive coordinator Matt Canada, McFarland feels like an afterthought. Could he finally excel under Canada in his third season? Perhaps, but he better rub his coordinator’s head for good luck.
As for Durant and Warren, there is some growing optimism that one or both can be turned into something.
I would continue to water that optimism a lot, though. Why do I say that? Because of how much McFarland has withered over the past two years while trying to reach the expectations of a fourth-round pick.
Speaking of fourth-round picks, Snell seemed to show some promise over his first two seasons and provided more than adequate relief from the backfield bullpen by rushing for a combined 794 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Unfortunately for Snell, he fell victim to his head coach’s love of bell-cow running backs; Snell only toted the rock 36 times for 98 yards a season ago, while Harris, a first-round pick out of Alabama in the 2021 NFL Draft, tallied 1200 rushing yards on 307 carries. Harris also contributed 467 yards on 74 receptions.
Najee Harris is the new Willie Parker/Rashard Mendenhall/Le’Veon Bell. He’s going to get the vast majority of touches out of the backfield for the duration of his Steelers’ career.
In other words, you can lead a head coach to plenty of articles about a running back by committee philosophy, but you can’t make him read them.
What happens if Harris gets hurt? Benny Snell Football, baby! “Yeah, but,” you might feel like starting a sentence with right now.
Let me stop you before you finish.
There are very few backups at any position in the NFL that don’t come with a “Yeah, but.” It’s part of being a backup, and if something happens to the top guy, the “next man up” isn’t likely going to be able to continue the same “standard” of excellence.
It’s the standard for backups.
“Yeah, but what about Tarik Cohen or David Johnson? Don’t you think the Steelers should sign one of those guys for depth?” My goodness, how many times do you have to touch the “accomplished veteran free-agent” flame before you realize it burns?
The Steelers don’t want hostages, and they certainly don’t need a veteran running back who would perhaps exhibit signs of needing a Snickers if he isn’t getting enough carries to pacify his ego.
Snell has shown in the past that he can be an adequate replacement at running back if he has to fill in for a starter.
As it turns out, “Benny Snell Football” is okay for a backup, and that’s not bad as far as fourth-round picks are concerned.
And that's probably the best you can expect when it comes to the Steelers and their depth at any position--including running back.