It's looking like it could be Anthony McFarland or bust for the Pittsburgh Steelers as their third-string running back in 2023. Most NFL teams keep three running backs on hand at all times, and Mike Tomlin isn't about to change this trend anytime soon. However, the Steelers may have just lost their fallback plan in the event of an injury.
On the eve of Pittsburgh's first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Benny Snell Jr. took to Twitter to announce that he had been signed by the Detroit Lions.
Snell's rookie contract expired following the 2022 season, and some were surprised to see that the Steelers elected not to bring him back on a cheap one-year deal this past offseason. Now Snell joins the Lions for a short to stick around on a new NFL team for the first time in his career.
As it stands, Pittsburgh's running back situation is pretty easy to figure out. Najee Harris will be the starter and the Steelers have a quality rotational back in second-year standout, Jaylen Warren. After these two, Anthony McFarland is the clear frontrunner to land the RB3 job in Pittsburgh.
Najee and Warren aren't going anywhere, and McFarland has certainly had a strong enough camp to warrant sticking around this season. However, McFarland is lacking in one major area: he can't play on special teams coverage units.
In the past, this has practically been a necessity of the Steelers. In fact, it might be the reason why they chose to keep Snell over McFarland in the first place in 2022.
What's more concerning, however, is the lack of depth at the position at Steelers training camp. Outside of their top three backs, Pittsburgh has not had another running back who has come close to impressing or giving McFarland a run for his money. This is where Snell comes in.
Steelers could have called on Snell in an emergency situation
Though the Steelers never expressed interest in bringing back Benny Snell Jr., it's easy to see how the team could have reached out to him in the event of an injury. As a runner, Pittsburgh knows that the plodding RB doesn't offer much. Snell has recorded a dismal 3.6 yards per carry throughout his career and he has just 17 receptions in four seasons, per Pro Football Reference.
Despite his lack of impact on the offense, Snell does have a whopping 991 special teams snaps under his belt since entering the league in 2019. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged an impressive 305 special teams snaps per year.
Signing Benny Snell is an option the team may have only considered if an injury occurs to one of the running backs on their 90-man roster. For the time being, that option has gone out the window, but he could be available again if he doesn't land on the Lions' roster this season.
I'm not going to get worked up about not having Benny Snell as a fallback plan. I'm not sure if the lack of success on offense even warrants a roster spot at this point. However, this is something the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly could have explored that is now off the table.