Steelers could take a flyer on Kansas RB Pooka Williams in NFL Draft

Running back Pooka Williams Jr. #1 of the Kansas Jayhawks tries to avoid a tackle (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Running back Pooka Williams Jr. #1 of the Kansas Jayhawks tries to avoid a tackle (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a major draft question answered with the announcement of Ben Roethlisberger’s return for 2021.

Roethlisberger’s new contract makes it highly unlikely the team will take a quarterback in this spring’s draft, ending speculation that they could take a signal-caller like Alabama’s Mac Jones.

Todd McShay has pushed another Tuscaloosa-to-Pittsburgh connection, mocking Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris to the Steelers in the first round. ESPN’s Brooke Pryor on how Harris fits in:

"For a team that started 11-0, the Steelers have a laundry list of needs in the 2021 draft, and running back is in the top tier of that wish list. Harris would be an instant starter on a team likely to part with [James] Conner in free agency. The Steelers badly need to rejuvenate the run game and actually stick with it this season. Adding Harris is the first step."

Harris could be one of multiple running backs the Steelers take this spring.

Also of interest is Kansas running back Pooka Williams, who impressed at the Jayhawks’ pro day Friday:

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Before opting out midway through the 2020 season (which was, in my view, a business decision made by a guy with NFL potential that’s a lot more understandable in this virus-affected year,) Williams rushed for 2,382 yards and 12 touchdowns on 415 carries in 26 games for Kansas.

The main knock on Williams is his size. While it’s true that he stands at a less-than-imposing (let’s be generous) 5’9 and 175 pounds, I don’t envision him at the running back position, at least not right off the bat. It’s a crowded room with Anthony McFarland, Benny Snell, and possibly Harris.

Another home for Williams could be on special teams. The Steelers’ kickoff return unit was 11th in yards per return last year, averaging 23.1 yards per return. The punt return team averaged 9.6 yards per return, good for 12th in the league.

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RayRay McCloud handled both kick return and punt return duties in 2020, and drafting a young speedster like Williams will allow McCloud to focus more on his wide receiver duties, an area the offense needs to work on following last season’s chronic case of the drops. Adding Williams and letting him specialize in returns also mitigates the possibility that an offensive threat like McCloud will be neutralized through an injury picked up on special teams duty.

Williams shouldn’t be reached for, but if he is still available in a later round of the draft, Pittsburgh should strongly consider taking him.