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Is Mataeo Durant the Steelers’ answer to back up Najee Harris?

Of the ten UDFAs, there are a few that seem to be showing promise and could become useful members of the Steelers roster.

NCAA Football: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers made seven great selections in this year’s NFL Draft. I personally welcome them all to the black and gold family as they start out on their journey to become star Steelers of the future! I’m excited and hyped to see them all play in black and gold next year as the team goes in search of their seventh Lombardi trophy.

However, after those seven picks the Steelers weren’t done. The team went on to sign ten undrafted rookie free agents (UDFAs), as well as free agent safety Damontae Kazee.

Here are the 10 UDFAs:

RB — Mataeo Durant

RB — Jaylen Warren

OT — Jake Dixon

OT — Chris Owens

OT — Jordan Tucker

CB — Bryce Watts

CB — Chris Steele

OLB — T.D Moultry

DT — Tyree Johnson

DT — Donovan Jeter

Of these ten, there are a number who fill position groups the Steelers didn’t address in the draft. Those being: OLB, CB, OT or RB. From what I have read, there are high hopes for Mataeo Durant, Chris Steele and Jordan Tucker.

While four positions weren’t addressed in the draft, one of those four has not been addressed at all this offseason. Running back is the position which hasn’t been touched at all in either free agency or the draft. It is also felt the Steelers need to find someone who can support and allow the Steelers to spell star running back Najee Harris. Harris runs the risk of been run into the ground, and potentially injured, if he has a workload the same or heavier next season. The Steelers offensive coaches need to find a player who can help them manage Harris’ snaps in the 2022 season. Losing Harris for a game or more could massively damage the Steelers competitiveness.

One of the rookie undrafted free agents which there seems to be a bit of hope around is Mateo Durant. Durant is 6’1” 195 lbs. out of Duke, and the Duke offense ran a lot through Durant last season. The Steelers have shown great faith in Durant by awarding him with the largest running back UDFA contract ever. His contract includes a $15,000 dollar signing bonus. Durant’s three-year deal should total out at $2.575 million dollars, his salary cap charge would be around $710,000, but only $5,000 of Durant’s contract would enter the Steelers rule of 51 number against the 2022 salary cap.

But who is Mataeo Durant? He played four years at Duke as a running back and special teamer. During his time at Duke, Durant played in 44 games starting 12 of them. His career stats at are: 489 rushing attempts; 2,562 yards; 5.24 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns. He also proved himself a useful receiver out of the backfield, with 55 receptions for 488 yards and 4 touchdowns. It is a possibility Durant works out and proves himself worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster, where he would be expected to back up Najee Harris and contribute on special teams.

In terms of Durant’s skill set, he possesses quick feet and good straight line speed; however, he doesn’t have an elite burst of speed. He has shown improved patience as a runner, learning how to become better at cuts and at following pulling guards to enable him to optimize the length of his runs. Durant has a surprising burst of speed which can out run linebackers away from the line, despite not having that elite RB1 speed. One thing Durant needs to improve on is something the Steelers love their running backs to do and that’s pass protection.

Certainly, if Durant works out for the Steelers, it could solve one of their remaining roster problems, given the fact neither Benny Snell or Anthony McFarland have proven themselves able alleviate Najee Harris’s workload. Snell looked very ineffective when called upon last season and McFarland was a healthy scratch more often than not.

Lastly, Durant would be a young running back the Steelers could mold to their scheme and organization rather than bringing in a more expensive free agent like a Tarik Cohen or Sony Michel. The Steelers love to build through the draft and Durant could certainly provide them with that opportunity.