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Are the Steelers set up to face a repeat of 2021 at the running back position?

The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t made significant moves at the RB position. Is it going to come back and bite them?

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

Jeremy McNichols...we hardly knew thee.

On the even of training camp, when reports swirled of the Pittsburgh Steelers releasing Trey Edmunds, fans knew a signing was coming. The position and players was unknown, but you don’t create a roster spot on the 90-man offseason roster just to leave it vacant.

The signing was Jeremy McNichols, and Steelers fans were excited to get the former Tennessee Titans running back in the mix. It seemed fitting the guy who backed up Derrick Henry in 2021 would now be backing up Najee Harris in 2022.

Nonetheless, the McNichols era was short-lived as he was put on Injured Reserve (IR) just a few days after camp began. The Steelers hosted several other running backs for workouts, and settled on the hard-running rookie Master Teague III.

When I saw who they replaced McNichols with on the roster, I immediately thought of 2021. Let me explain...

Last season, Najee Harris’ rookie season, the former Alabama product touched the football 381 times, a number which led the league. The number was so staggering, this entire offseason has been filled with talk both from coaches and players with their desire to reduce the number in 2022.

Thinking back to 2021 harkens back memories of a porous offensive line, and a depth chart which left a lot to be desired. Here is what it look like, in case you forgot:

  • Najee Harris
  • Benny Snell Jr.
  • Anthony McFarland
  • Kalen Ballage

The Steelers hardly used the other three running backs, and were fortunate Harris was healthy for the vast majority of the season. Now, with McNichols on IR and the Steelers bringing in Teague, the 2022 depth chart looks something like this:

  • Najee Harris
  • Benny Snell Jr.
  • Anthony McFarland
  • Jaylen Warren / Mateo Durant / Master Teague III

Look familiar?

It looks as if the Steelers are going into 2022 with the same playbook, figuratively speaking, as it pertains to the running backs on the roster. Najee Harris, and a bunch of other guys who won’t see the field much.

Maybe an improved offensive line will help, and maybe that will increase Benny Snell’s role in 2022?

Maybe Anthony McFarland will stay healthy and prove he is the change-of-pace back the team thought they drafted out of Maryland in 2020?

Maybe someone like Jaylen Warren, an undrafted rookie, would be able to lighten Harris’ workload?

It might seem far-fetched, but maybe those things do happen. In which case, the Steelers offense will be more than equipped to handle a Najee Harris workload which is far less than what it was a year ago. However, if those things don’t happen. If Snell doesn’t see success behind another patchwork line. If McFarland can’t stay healthy. And if the mixed bag of undrafted rookies don’t provide any depth, the Steelers will be right back where they were a year ago.

Harris nearing the league lead in overall touches.

In hindsight, the Steelers were ridiculously lucky Harris was able to not just play all 17 regular season games, but to do so in relatively good health. To ask that again of the talented running back might be too much.

The Steelers could get creative with how they take Harris off the field this season, and it might not have anything to do with the depth at the position. Matt Canada has several versatile weapons who could act as the running back, and still be a weapon, within the framework of the offense.

Think about Connor Heyward or Calvin Austin III lining up in the backfield. Both could carry the ball in some capacity, but it would give Harris a play off. Hardly a lock solid plan, but another option if the other backs don’t pan out, again.

Fans all hoped the Steelers would do more at running back this offseason. Sign a veteran, or bring in a draft pick which could help ease the burden placed on Harris. Neither happened, and it seems to be the running back depth chart is going to be a repeat of 2021. The question remains if the overall touches for Harris will also be a repeat of last year.

To hear more insight and information surrounding this topic, be sure to check out my Monday Let’s Ride podcast in the player below: