There was a lot of hype and hope surrounding running back Benny Snell after the Steelers selected him in the fourth round out of Kentucky in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Why so much hype for a fourth-round pick? For starters, Snell had a very productive collegiate career, rushing for 3,873 yards in three seasons, while eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in each one.
- Also, Snell had a cool personality, a cool nickname — Benny Snell Football — and an infectious smile.
Lastly, Snell was drafted during the height of social media, and the bells and whistles that accompany draft choices on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, etc. in this day and age make every single one seem like a future Hall of Famer.
Snell actually did show a lot of promise during his rookie season, rushing for 426 yards on 108 carries while filling in for the oft-injured James Conner.
Snell’s sophomore season got off to an incredible start when he rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries in a Week 1 win over the Giants. Snell came into the game for Conner, who was, you guessed it, injured, and the calls for him to become the Steelers’ new starting running back were quite audible.
Unfortunately for Snell, he never did overtake James Conner as the Steelers’ starting running back and would only carry the football 92 more times for an uninspiring 255 yards over the final 15 games of the 2020 campaign.
James Conner left as a free agent after 2020, and the Steelers decided to make Najee Harris their 2021 first-round pick, as well as their bell-cow running back.
- Just how much of a bell-cow back was Harris in 2021? Such a bell-cow, that Snell had just 36 carries for 98 yards.
As is usually the case with underperforming mid-level draft picks, the attitude of the fans toward Snell had totally soured by Year 3. Heck, it was going downhill even after 2020, as the faithful began to refer to the former Kentucky workhorse as Benny Snail.
It didn’t matter that Snell had turned himself into a valuable special teams player, the fans simply wanted him gone at the conclusion of the Steelers 2022 training camp.
- Why did the fans turn on Snell?
He just didn’t live up to the social media hype. Also, that’s mostly how fans are. They’re a lot like college head coaches. They’ll kiss a player’s butt and charm him during the recruiting phase of the relationship, but they have no problem chewing him out and tearing him down the moment he screws up on the football field.
Snell survived the final cut in training camp, but he was dropped to third on the depth chart behind Harris and rookie Jaylen Warren.
- Snell came into Monday night’s game against the Colts without a single carry in 2022.
Warren missed Monday’s game with a hamstring injury, but the Steelers seemed intent on using Anthony McFarland, a third-year back out of Maryland who was just signed from the practice squad, as the primary backup to Harris.
But then Harris had to leave the Colts game with an abdominal injury, and that forced Snell to be the next man up in the backfield.
Sure, McFarland had a decent night for himself in limited action, tallying 30 yards on five carries, but it was Snell who became the primary back and the workhorse to close out the game. All-in-all, Snell had 12 carries for 62 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
- Snell looked decisive and strong during most of his 12 carries on Monday night.
What happened? Did he suddenly feel inspired? Did he feel motivated to prove the “haters” wrong?
Or, perhaps, his skills could finally shine thanks to an offensive line that has seemingly figured out a way to open holes in the running game on a consistent basis.
- It’s critical to remember that Benny Snell came to the Steelers right as the offense was going from a strength to a weakness.
The offense has been in a rebuilding phase since 2019, complete with a total overhaul on the offensive line, as well as everywhere else, including at quarterback and offensive coordinator.
The Steelers offense has been a chaotic and controversial mess during Snell’s entire career in Pittsburgh. It’s hard enough for a first-round pick to thrive in such an environment–just ask Harris–let alone a fourth-rounder.
Does Monday’s performance mean that Snell should get a bigger role in Pittsburgh’s offense? Not necessarily. I believe Warren has what it takes to be an effective backup behind Harris.
- I am suggesting that perhaps Snell was never as bad as you think.
- Maybe he was just a victim of circumstance.
Maybe calling him Benny Snail was a bit unfair and uncalled for.