No team has rushed for more yards since the AFL-NFL merger than the Pittsburgh Steelers. In January 2010, Steelers President Art Rooney II described quality rushing as a “foundation of the franchise.”
In contrast to Bill Cowher, during Mike Tomlin’s tenure, the Steelers have looked to running back earlier and more often in the draft having used 3 premium picks on running backs. Will that trend continue or, perhaps better stated, should that trend continue in the 2016 NFL Draft?
Steelers Depth Chart @ Running Back Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starter
Although he finished 2015 on injured reserve, Le’Veon Bell will enter 2016 as the Steelers starting running back, and if Art Rooney II’s statements are any guide, the Steelers will look to lock him up to a long-term contract.
- It is easy to understand why, as Bell’s dynamic ability as a double threat teases to reestablish the concept of “franchise running back.”
Such lofty visions must be tempered with the reality that the shelf life of running backs in the NFL is short and continues to grow shorter, and Bell has already missed 16 of a 51 possible games to injury, including 3 playoff contests. The Steelers have confidence in Bell’s ability to recover, but on the outside that looks like a leap of faith.
While it almost seems quaint to acknowledge a fullback as a “starter” the Steelers chose undrafted rookie free agent Roosevelt Nix over Will Johnson.
Steelers Depth Cart @ Running Back Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups
A year ago the Steelers signed DeAngelo Williams as an insurance policy, and many were skeptical that a 32 year old NFL running back coming off an injury and with 1432 carries on his frame could deliver.
- Those skeptics were dead wrong.
DeAngelo Williams had his best season rushing since 2009, and showed himself a dangerous double threat, not only did Williams do damage on the ground, but he also gave Ben Roethlisberger an enticing target underneath.. Williams almost literally saved the season.
In late November, the Steelers made a curious move – they activated a guy named Fitzgerald Toussaint from their practice squad. This came before DeAngelo Williams injury, and after Mike Tomlin had assured reporters he would not attempt to groom an understudy for Williams.
The move came shortly after the Ravens put Justin Forsett on season ending IR and activating Toussaint looked like a proactive move to protect him from practice squad poaching. When the playoffs arrived, Toussaint vindicated the Steelers faith in him as he collected over 120 all-purpose yards in the playoff win against the Bengals.
For the record, the Steelers also have running backs Abou Toure, 2015 practice squader Rajion Neal and Daryl Richardson who has experience with the Rams and Browns.
Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Running Back
Running back is one slot on the depth chart where Steel Curtain Rising’s analysis likely differs from much of Steelers Nation and likely Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.
- The Steelers have now been forced to start their 4th string running back in three consecutive post-season contests.
OK, 2014 is somewhat of an aberration, as LeGarrette Blount’s insubordination and Dri Archer’s total failure couldn’t have been foreseen, at least not while something could be done about it. Yet, in 2015 the Steelers essentially chose to enter the season with a running back’s depth chart that was two backs deep.
By season’s end, both Bell and Williams were hurt….
- Sure, Jordan Todman and Toussaint played well, but do you really want pin post season hopes practice squaders and waiver wire pickups?
Sure, the days when the Steelers staffed their depth chart with three or four quality running backs may seem like an anachronistic memory of a bye gone era, but it’s no secret that the Steelers won their last Super Bowl with a depth chart that went Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell and Carey Davis – all of whom were on the opening day roster, and all of whom were at “Above the line” ball carriers.
- It says here that drafting running back in the first round would be a mistake.
Drafting one in the second round might be too high as well. But the Steelers have rolled the dice on running back depth in two straight seasons and it has cost them in two straight post seasons which means that the Steelers 2016 draft need at running back must be considered Moderate High.