5 candidates to be the Steelers top running back in 2021

Kenneth Gainwell #19 of the Memphis Tigers. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Kenneth Gainwell #19 of the Memphis Tigers. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have an immediate need to improve the running back room. Here are five candidates who could be their go-to guy in 2021. 

The Steelers have made some surprise moves over the past few weeks. After it seemed almost certain that wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster would be signing with another team, he decided to return to Pittsburgh on a one-year deal worth $8 million. Pittsburgh also recently admitted that they will be cutting cornerback Steven Nelson if they can’t find a trade partner for him soon, and his departure will leave a gaping hole in Keith Butler’s secondary.

After the Steelers fixed their depth issue at wide receiver, cornerback now becomes a major position of need. But what about running back? So far, news surrounding James Conner has been very quiet and there are whispers that he could return to the team on a cheap deal if he doesn’t get the offer he was expecting. Through their offseason visits and virtual meetings, Pittsburgh has made it well known that this is an area they must improve in. Here are five candidates to be the RB1 for the Steelers in 2021:

Kenneth Gainwell

Initially, I wouldn’t have given this one a very good chance. Kenneth Gainwell was an opt-out player this past season, and the Steelers have expressed that they are interested in players who suited up in 2020. However, their virtual visit with Gainwell would suggest otherwise. When he was on the field for Memphis in 2019, Gainwell was electrifying – averaging 6.3 yards per rush and recording 1,459 rushing yards.

In addition, his ability to routinely win as a receiver and dominate on outside runs is going to make him particularly intriguing to Matt Canada in his new-look offense this year. Gainwell measured bigger than expected and he has the athletic traits that the Steelers really like. Now that he has earned a visit with the team, he could be a candidate the Steelers target as early as the second round this year. If drafted, he would carve out a role from day one and quickly become the lead back on the team.