The Pittsburgh Steelers depth chart in the running back room may get complicated following their second preseason game against the Jaguars.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have an up-and-coming superstar at running back in Najee Harris. They know it too, as Harris had 307 rushing attempts and 94 pass targets in 2021. For Harris to have received 400 total attempts is rather remarkable, however, it is also concerning. Pittsburgh had a superstar running back not too recently (Le’Veon Bell) who was at one point the most productive running back in the league. Yet Bell’s prime was arguably short-lived even for a running back. This can likely be partially attributed to a very high workload and several injuries over the 5-year span he was playing for the Steelers.
While some may argue that none of those injuries were severe, as none required an extended amount of missed time, Bell had multiple injuries that compounded on the same leg. I personally believe that the compounding ACL and MCL injuries may have attributed to his lack of success upon leaving the Steel City. In order for the Steelers to lower the chance of this happening to Harris, they need to have at least one other back that can take some of the workload.
Harris was the running game for the Steelers in 2021
In 2021, Harris rushed for 1,200 yards. The next highest rushing total by a Steeler was Benny Snell with 98 rush yards total for 2021. The 3rd highest rushing total on the team was posted by a Wide Receiver, Chase Claypool, who had missed some time due to injury but with 96 total yards and more rushing yards per game. It can be assumed that Claypool probably would have surpassed Snell for the second highest rushing total on the season had he remained healthy.
That is unacceptable for a team looking to establish a rushing attack. Even if the Steelers had the worst offensive line in football, which while bottom tier it probably wasn’t the worst, as an NFL running back one should be able to accumulate at least 100 yards over the course of a season. This has led to a multitude of undrafted free agent running backs being brought in to breathe some life into the running back room.
2022 preseason is showing some talent behind Harris
Anthony McFarland Jr., Jaylen Warren, and Master Teague have been showing out in the preseason. Anthony McFarland dealt with some injuries at the beginning of the year in 2021 and had a hard time even getting on the field. Yet, in this preseason all three of these backs have looked good and if what we saw in our first preseason game is an indicator of what is to come, McFarland may have carve out a legit role for himself this year.
McFarland averaged 8.0 yards per carry against the Seahawks in their first preseason game. Teague and Warren both averaged over 5.0 yards per carry. That is a massive jump up from Snell’s 2.7 yards a carry in 2021. While we have to beware as this was in the preseason playing against some reserves it is clear the Steelers running back room has added some depth talent and McFarland has taken a big step forward heading into 2022.
McFarland showed the decisiveness he has been lacking the past two seasons and started turning up field whenever he would find a lane. His speed is starting to show and he ripped off a few big runs in Week 1 that will help add splash to the run game. While Warren has been exhibiting an ability to receive the ball as well, with 4 catches and a receiving touchdown.
Warren’s versatility is a huge factor as having a backup who can do both helps secure depth that can be used in any package should injuries occur. Teague is a thumper, he reminded me of Isaac Redman from the Steelers’ Super Bowl 43 roster. He could spell Harris in short yardage situations should Harris need to sit.
Week 2 of the preseason will be pivotal in this competition
Seeing as how there are only 3 preseason games, Week 2 against the Jaguars should be a turning point in the preseason. As the final preseason game will feature mostly reserve players, Week 2 could be the last chance for some of these guys trying to carve out roles on the offense. While McFarland seems to have carved out his own role on the offense already, Teague and Warren are still working to establish themselves as backups and it is hard to argue with their production from the first week of the preseason.
Benny Snell is still on the team and if he made a leap as McFarland did, it would be likely that he could keep Teague out of the running back room. The big question is injuries. Snell didn’t suit up in the first game due to a knee injury, while Master Teague suffered an injury in training camp this week. Health will also play a huge role.
If Snell can’t get a decent amount of preseason snaps, and Teague bounces back quickly then that could lead to Snell suddenly not making the team. However, if Teague’s injury was serious enough to cause an extended amount of time to be missed, Snell’s job may be safe for now. The same can be said if Snell performs exceptionally well against the Jaguars in Week 2. Snell will have to be exceptional as it is already appearing as though McFarland could be the perfect compliment to Harris this season.
Either way you slice it, the running back room has been a very fun one to watch this preseason. If there wasn’t a quarterback “battle” ongoing this may have been the story of the preseason.