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Will Jaylen Warren move closer to splitting time at running back in 2023?

Warren was a pleasant surprise emerging as the Steelers second option in his rookie season.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers found a diamond in the rough in 2022 when undrafted rookie running back Jaylen Warren not only made the 53-man roster but emerged as the Steelers second-best option at the position during the season. With the Steelers not always having a great option behind their number one running back the last several years, finding a player like Warren really made a difference.

But even though he was used in the Steelers offense, Jaylen Warren was still getting acclimated to the NFL and was not utilized as much as some may remember. Although he was on the field for 29.5% of the Steelers offensive snaps in 2022 despite missing a game due to injury, Warren only had 15.4% of the Steelers rushing attempts last season. With 379 rushing yards on 77 carries, Warren did not even hit 100 rushing attempts despite the Steelers as a team having exactly 500.

Although Jaylen Warren did not take up a huge percentage of the Steelers rushing attempts, what he helped accomplish was making sure Najee Harris saw a reduction in his workload. Seeing a decrease of 35 carries from 307 in 2021 down to 272 in 2022, Harris saw fewer carries although the Steelers had 89 more rushing attempts. This allowed Harris to see his percent of rushes drop from 74.7% in 2021 to 54.4% in 2022.

While Jaylen Warren did help reduce some of this workload, having the quarterbacks add significant rushing attempts last season also made a difference. The quarterbacks’ combined total rushing attempts according to Pro Football Reference had the Steelers almost triple their output in 2022 with 74 attempts which was up from 25 attempts in 2021. It should also be noted that these rushing attempts also include kneel downs.

So the ultimate question comes down to if Jaylen Warren will see an increased workload and the Steelers dividing the touches in a closer ratio this season, or will Warren be used primarily to not overwork Najee Harris?

If all goes well, the Steelers will have both running backs available all season and they can distribute the carries as they please. But if something were to happen where Harris would not be available at times during the season, hopefully Jaylen Warren has progressed even more after having one NFL season under his belt to where he can carry the torch in his absence.

Most likely, the Steelers will not be looking at a “split running back” situation where the workload is shared somewhat equally. Instead, the better way to think about how the Steelers are more apt to use their two running backs as a “1–2 punch” with Harris leading the way and Warren giving the Steelers almost as much with very little drop off between the two players. Although Warren may be both willing and capable, seeing his carries take a huge jump in his second season would likely only occur if the Steelers struggle with availability with their top option.