The Pittsburgh Steelers used their third-round 2017 NFL Draft pick on James Conner, an explosive running back and hometown hero, but should they still consider re-signing DeAngelo Williams?
For the last two seasons, DeAngelo Williams has been the savior of the Pittsburgh Steelers running game when Le’Veon Bell went down with injuries. Even at age 34, Williams is considered one of the best backup running backs in the NFL. But instead of resigning the veteran runner, the Steelers decided to draft a running back in the third-round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
James Conner may have the story and talent to make him a fan favorite from day one, but whether or not he’s ready to be the backup in Pittsburgh is still unknown. Even with missing almost an entire season while battling Hodgkin lymphoma, Conner finished his college career with 3,733 yards and 52 touchdowns.
Now, he’s heading to the Steel City looking to become a part of one of the best offenses in football. As he learns from Mike Tomlin, Le’Veon Bell and Todd Haley, he’ll look to become just as big a factor as he was in college, in the NFL.
When you think of a running back duo featuring Conner and Bell, you’re content. It’s the perfect combination of flashiness and ground and pound running. While Bell takes on most of the workload, Conner will get most of the short yardage runs and should expect to see a lot of goal-line rushes.
There’s still the debate on DeAngelo Williams, though. As he continues to look for a job, Pittsburgh may be thinking of making their backfield duo a trio. By having all three in 2017, they could pull off one of the best running games in the NFL while using each player to their own strengths.
On top of that, Pittsburgh needs to think of the worst case scenario. With Bell’s injury-ridden past, the Steelers need to be prepared to let another running back take the reigns at some point this season.
That could be too much pressure to put on a rookie back who isn’t expected to start. Although he’s a sound runner who can be a significant contributor to the offense, he isn’t someone who can take on 20-plus rushes a game and succeed.
Williams is. He’s proven it over the last two years, being one of the league’s top rushers while Bell has missed time. If it weren’t for his age, his performance in Pittsburgh since 2015 would have been more than enough to land him a job this season.
The debate boils down to keep a dominate backfield in the case of Bell missing time versus letting Conner develop as the only No. 2. If they can think of a way of finding the perfect happy medium, where Conner gets most of the backup reps, and Williams is more of an emergency option, then, by all means, bring the veteran back.
Without finding a way to have them both and not affect Conner, though, Pittsburgh should stick with the backfield they have now. Leaving a difficult decision in the hands of Tomlin and the front office.
It comes down to finding ways to work with both scenarios at the same time. Without hurting Conner’s productivity, Pittsburgh would love to find a way to bring back to bring back Williams. If they can’t work out a gameplan for them both, though, they need to stick with Bell and Conner.
As much as fans would love to see Williams return, he’s realistically only an option if Bell gets hurt. Besides that, adding a third back to a rotation that can be handled by Bell alone does nothing but hinder Conner’s rookie season.