Three years is a large enough sample to figure out what a player can offer in the NFL. For Steelers running back, Benny Snell, the answer is not much of anything.
I’ve got to be honest: I never understood the hype with Benny Snell coming out of Kentucky. When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Snell in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, fans went crazy. They had watched Snell hammer his way up the throat of SEC defenses and thought he had a chance to be a workhorse back for the Steelers.
I was never impressed with him. While he was a young, productive running back in college, I was never a fan of the traits. Snell ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Combine to go with a 29 1/2” vertical and overall very subpar athletic traits. This lack of speed and explosion was not a recipe for success.
Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what we have come to see from him in the NFL. During his first three seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Snell has carried the ball 255 times for just 892 yards, via Pro Football Reference — a pedestrian average of just 3.5 yards per carry. In addition, he has chipped in just 15 receptions in three NFL seasons.
Last year, some predicted that Snell would be improved as he came in off the bench to spell Najee Harris now and then. This was not the case at all. The 2021 season proved to be Snell’s worst to date. In fact, he finished near the bottom of the league in terms of efficiency among running backs with at least 20 carries last season, according to Football Outsiders.
During the first half of Steelers training camp in 2022, we have seen much of the same. Despite getting first-team reps as Harris works his way back from a minor foot injury, Snell has been completely unspectacular. Meanwhile, Anthony McFarland and undrafted rookie, Jaylen Warren have been much better at camp.
Snell shouldn’t be guaranteed a spot on Steelers roster
Many have predicted that Benny Snell’s spot on the Steelers rosters is already locked up. While I don’t know if I would go as far as to say that, the fact that he’s been given so many opportunities with the starting offense during Steelers training camp is a pretty good indication that Pittsburgh plans to keep him. But should they?
I know that Snell was used a lot on special teams last year (326 snaps, to be exact). It’s this usage that makes him essentially a lock for another spot this year. However, when it comes to offense, he has offered nothing that a replacement-level running back couldn’t do, and his efficiency has been near the very bottom of the league over this span.
While Snell continues to look like a slow, plodding running back at Steelers training camp, there have been at least two backs who have been far more impressive. Anthony McFarland really caught my eye in Latrobe this year with his burst, twitch, and top-end speed. As a runner and receiver, I think he’s been the best overall back at camp so far.
Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren has really turned heads with his vision and ability to hit the hole hard and run through tackles. At 5’8” and 215 pounds, he’s a gritty RB with a low center of gravity. Warren doesn’t have elite top-end speed, but he’s still noticeably quicker and faster than Snell.
At the end of the day, the decision to keep Benny Snell around for the final year of his rookie deal is probably going to come down to his ability to contribute on special teams. The Steelers like that he’s a big-bodied back who plays tough — even if that means he doesn’t offer much else.
Personally, I would like to be done with the Benny Snell experiment at this point. He hasn’t offered anything special on offense in his first three seasons and that won’t change in 2022.