Steelers RB Depth Could Be Disastrous in 2022

June 30, 2022
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Najee Harris put the offense on his back last year, but will it be sustainable going forward?

Running Back Najee Harris proved to be everything the Pittsburgh Steelers could’ve hoped for last year after using a first-round pick on him in the 2020 Draft. That was evidenced by breaking a nearly 40-year-old record held by Hall of Fame RB and Pittsburgh Steeler legend, Franco Harris. The Steelers showed an incredible amount of trust in the rookie by giving him a whopping 381 touches across 17 games, the most by a Pittsburgh running back since 2017 when Le’Veon Bell handled the ball 406 times.

While Najee Harris was able to live up to expectations, having him handle 75% of the team’s rushing attempts on top of targeting him 94 times through the air (3rd most on the team) may not bode well for his longevity.

The Next Steelers Up

The Pittsburgh Steelers currently do not have a proven back-up for Harris on the roster, and also passed on drafting/signing one so far this off-season. While they did attempt to slightly bolster the position in the UDFA market post-draft, it is unclear if rookies Jaylen Warren and Mataeo Durant will even make the final roster cuts this fall.

Should Najee Harris have to miss any time, the next man up currently is four-year backup, Benny Snell. Last season, Snell posted a very underwhelming 36 carries for 98 yards and was almost outrushed by Wide Receiver Chase Claypool (14 carries for 96 yards). Behind Snell, the remaining running backs who were on the team last season are third-year running back Anthony McFarland and Trey Edmunds. McFarland and Edmunds are mainly rotational/special team guys who have not made much of an impact during their time in Pittsburgh.

Running Game Struggles

Pittsburgh Steelers fans have had to get used to lackluster rushing performances since Le’Veon Bell’s infamous holdout in 2017. Since then, every starting lineman from that team has either retired or departed, and the dominant ground and pound mentality has since dissipated.

Even with Harris’ impressive performances last season, the offense as a whole struggled tremendously in the run game and registered a near bottom of the league at 3.9 yards per carry. They also ranked 29th in rushing yards per game (93.1), 29th in total rushing yards (1,583), and 30th in total rushing touchdowns (ten). This lack of production in the running game has proven to be a trend for this offense over the last several years. While a lackluster offensive line and questionable play-calling played factors in the Steelers’ offensive struggles, the absence of an effective backup running back could be a big issue for both Najee Harris and the new Steelers offense.

What’s Next?

Suppose the Pittsburgh Steelers plan on being competitive in the star-studded AFC North. In that case, they not only need to improve their running game as a team but also cover their bases if Najee Harris is not available for whatever reason.

The signings of James Daniels (Offensive Guard) and Mason Cole (Center) on paper look great and at the very least should be an improvement from what the offensive line looked like just a year ago.

There are still quite a few serviceable free agent running backs left on the market as we get closer to training camp in July, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mike Tomlin and company kick the tires on a few veterans looking for new homes.