As most fans wonder who Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman are, since they will be shouldering the load at running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers in lieu of DeAngelo Williams, let me introduce them to the loyal fans of the Terrible Towel.
A Little History
Look up Fitzgerald Toussaint's NFL stats and he looks like every other undrafted free agent running back who is really more of a practice squad player than pro. For the Baltimore Ravens last year, Toussaint carried 6 times for 12 yards and caught 3 passes for 27 yards while playing in 4 games. Notably, Toussaint contributed zero yards in his team's victory over the Steelers, so you know his heart is pure. As a Steeler, Toussaint has racked up 42 yards on 18 carries, coming mostly last week. His 2.2 yards per carry hardly inspires confidence, but it is a small sample size and the kid does have some skills.
Toussaint has solid experience coming from the University of Michigan, where he was at times electric, showcasing his breakaway ability as a High School track star. In 2011, he posted over 1,000 yards and 10 TD's, including 172 yards against Purdue and 190 against Illinois. 2012 was a down year, and his efficiency dropped every year, down to 3.5 yards per carry as a senior in 2013, but he still managed to cap off his year with 13 rushing TD's while becoming more active in the passing game (203 receiving yards). Injuries and off the field problems were likely to blame for Toussaint's regression during his college career. Fitz was caught running a red light while visibly intoxicated to start 2012 and finished the year with a broken leg against Iowa.
Toussaint grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and returning to his home state will hopefully give him some of the magic his fellow Ohioan Big Ben enjoys in that state. Anyway, Toussaint has flashed genuine explosiveness on a major stage in his college career. While he has yet to put it on display in the NFL, there is a legitimate upside to hope for at least.
Jordan Todman gives us a little more of a proven commodity at RB. As a collegiate at Connecticut, Todman posted 5.2 yards/carry over his career and entered the NFL as a Junior after ringing up 1,600 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, after posting 1,100 yards and 14 TD's the year before. After being drafted in the 6th round, he spent time on the practice squad in San Diego and Minnesota before making the team in Jacksonville. As a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he would end up starting 3 games and rushing 108 times for 442 yards and 2 TD's in 2013 and 2014, tacking on 314 yards and 2 TD's in the passing game.
Both players were acquired off waivers at the beginning of this season, although Fitz was on the practice squad until the bye.
What They Bring to the Table
Toussaint and Todman are very similar players. Todman weighs in at 5'9 and 203 pounds, while Toussaint is just slightly bigger at 5'10 and 211 pounds. Both are shifty backs with good burst that are looking to break off a long run. We saw last year in the playoffs that Tomlin's bell cow philosophy of RB's doesn't apply to 3rd stringers, with Tate, Harris, and Archer all getting action. Although Toussaint has been named the starter, it's likely that Todman will get his chances as well, and Haley will let the hot hand have the bulk of the carries. The ability to pick up blitzes will also be key, and if Todman ends up sitting, a failure to adequately protect Big Ben in practice will probably be why.
The bottom line is that anything can happen with backup running backs, just look at UDFA Thomas Rawls, but it's unlikely either of these guys is going to take over the game. Still, they both have the ability and the particular skill set to burn a defense for a big play if they disregard the run. The Bengals have been known to do just that, giving up 4.3 yards per rush for the 12th worst mark in the league. It's unlikely either back will force the Bengals to alter their defensive game plan, but they could be able to take advantage if the Bengals game plan focuses exclusively on the pass.