2017 NFL Draft: At What Point do the Pittsburgh Steelers Pick a Running back?

Nov 26, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) leaves the field after defeating the Syracuse Orange at Heinz Field. PITT won 76-61. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) leaves the field after defeating the Syracuse Orange at Heinz Field. PITT won 76-61. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

By not re-signing DeAngelo Williams, the Pittsburgh Steelers made it clear they’re at some point going to pick a running back in the 2017 NFL Draft.

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With two possible top 10 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft being running backs and some sixth and seventh round predictions still having future pro starter names, it’s safe to say this draft class is fully loaded with runners. After choosing not to re-sign DeAngelo Williams, the Steelers made the unsaid statement that they’re going to be looking rusher in the draft.

How early? No one has any idea. After signing Kniles Davis, they did boost their backfield depth chart but are still nowhere near a Williams-caliber player.

Using a pick as high as even the third round for a player who would be solely used as a liability option behind Le’Veon Bell is foolish. Pittsburgh isn’t going to find talent much better in the third round than they would the fifth. What they need and likely intend to do is sit on a running back late in the middle of the draft and possibly even beyond.

By late-middle, we’re talking about a fifth-round pick. At this point, Pittsburgh has filled the voids they were focused on heading into the draft and can now fill spots they need depth at. First up on that list would be running back.

The Steelers have options. First, they could jump the gun and steal a runner in the fourth round. Players like Jamaal Williams, James Conner and T.J. Logan should all still be around when the 135th pick roles around. With each of them having successful careers and being considered possible starters in the NFL one day, using a fourth-rounder isn’t a bad strategy.

Not that it’s one they’d be advised using, but if they see something special they might want to jump on it. Maybe, they’d like to bring in the hometown hero, James Conner, and continue his legacy in Pittsburgh. Honestly, there’s no issues and wouldn’t be any from fans.

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Conner’s story, battling and defeating cancer, then returning to Pitt to rush for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns is one known throughout the country. As a college star, Conner is as well known as running backs come. In Pittsburgh, almost everyone knows his name and his journey.

The other option is to wait it out until the fifth or six round. At this point, options are slim but still valuable backups. Guys like Dare Ogunbowale, Justin Davis, Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement should all be around.

Looking back at their stats and roles in college, this wave of running backs are more impressive than the first. Although Clement got the start at Wisconsin last season, Ogunbowale is considered the better pro back. While Clement ran the ball 314 times for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns, Ogunbowale only received 91 touches for 506 yards and five scores.

Considered the more versatile of the two, Ogunbowale is projected a whole round earlier than Clement. As an explosive back with quick feet, power, and speed, the Wisconsin backup could be used as a valuable rest option for Bell next season. While Clement is an option, he’d be a later round pick Pittsburgh may not be trying to wait for.

The NCAA’s leading rusher in 2016, Donnel Pumphrey, doesn’t have the physical traits you like to see in an NFL runner but has proven everyone wrong on the field time and time again. At 5’9, 180-pounds, Pumphrey reminds you of a Danny Woodhead or Darren Sproles. His breakaway speed and ability to explode through the hole quicker than almost anyone gives him the advantage on any play.

His NCAA-leading 2,133 yards racked up an insane 6.1 yards per carry average. Combined with his 17 touchdowns, it was shocking that Pumphrey wasn’t even mentioned in the Heisman race last season.

The Steelers might not be willing to risk another speedy undersized running back after Dri Archer didn’t pan out. Pumphrey’s productivity may be too impressive to pass on, though. If they do take a chance on him, it may be because they can wait it out until the end of the sixth round.

After this, there really isn’t much you’re going to get that can beat out Karlos Williams. The draft is stocked, but only until the end of the sixth round, then you start moving into filler guys. But if the Steelers are looking running back, they have plenty of time to pick one up.

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Whether it’s continuing a Pittsburgh legacy, looking for the perfect backup, or taking the chance on the playmaker, the Steelers have plenty of names to pick from. The key is not to wait too long, but don’t jump the gun. If Pittsburgh could find the perfect middle ground, they should be looking at a very valuable draft pick.