Steelers add running back Wendell Smallwood, but why?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly very deep at the running back position. Did it make sense to add Wendell Smallwood to the group?

After the departure of Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers have since felt the effects of losing the All-Pro running back. However, not exactly for the reasons you might think.

In his first year as a starter in 2018, James Conner proved to be a very capable player taking over for Bell. The former Pitt standout averaged 4.5 yards per carry and an impressive 9.0 yards per reception. Though he played just 13 games in 2018, Bell managed nearly 1,000 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl.

While nobody is going to argue that Conner is as good as what Bell was for the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s depth at the position has never been better. Because Conner has such a hard time staying on the field, the Steelers have made sure to give him added help. So much so, in fact, that Pittsburgh has spent draft picks on a running back in each of the past 4 NFL Drafts.

As a result, the Steelers are suddenly one of the deepest teams in the league at the position. Behind Conner, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland stand to compete for carries in 2020. With their additions, it’s unclear whether or not Pittsburgh will be able to keep receiving specialist, Jaylen Samuels on the roster, as they typically carry just three running backs.

But despite all of this sudden depth, the Steelers recently made another very interesting addition. On Tuesday, they signed former Eagles and Redskins running back Wendell Smallwood:

Did it make sense for Steelers to sign Wendell Smallwood?

While adding depth during the offseason is hardly surprising, did it make sense for the Steelers to sign another running back?

Already, fans and analysts were trying to figure out which running back would be the odd man out for Pittsburgh this year. As mentioned earlier, Jaylen Samuels is a player who stands to be on the roster bubble because of the depth at the position. In addition, Kerrith Whyte, who dressed for six games with the team last year and averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry, virtually has no chance of sticking around on the active roster.

So what chance does Wendell Smallwood have?

The simple answer: None whatsoever… That is unless injuries or sickness occur.

With players testing positive for COVID-19 and others choosing to opt out of the 2020 season, Smallwood’s signing may be an insurance policy to the running back position in case this happens. It’s also possible that the Steelers are expecting one of their running backs to opt out this season.

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Either way, there’s no question Mike Tomlin’s team is entering the 2020 season with plenty of depth at the position. Though Smallwood is a longshot to make the roster this September, we’ve seen how fast the winds can shift in 2020. Maybe this was a proactive move.

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