Steelers must blow more draft capital by trading for premier running back
It looks like the Titans and the Browns are both shopping their top running backs Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb, and the Steelers would be wise to be buyers. For an offense that seemingly wants to go backward from what is working leaguewide, this offense has tried to design itself around the run in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era.
With their declining quarterback, the team opted to bring in do-it-all back Najee Harris via the first round of the draft. He has been a middle-of-the-pack back since joining the team, scraping together some statistically ok seasons, but he has proven to be inefficient with his carries.
Najee certainly hasn’t transformed this rushing attack, as the Steelers have been the 29th and 16th best rushing teams since he was drafted. Since running backs are the key to a successful rushing attack, why not go out and secure one of the two best pure rushers in the league?
The Steelers should hone in on the top backs in the league
The team seems to think that the key to a good offense and a good rushing attack is landing a premiere back. Despite a slew of other needs, Harris was hand-picked as the future of this offense, and the team trusted him to bring their rushing offense to a new level. While he hasn’t been a disaster, he certainly hasn’t yielded the dominant rushing attack the team wanted.
Henry, meanwhile, is one of the most unique backs in the league. A freak of nature, he can run past you or over you for big games. Chubb is a similar story, as he hits holes hard and chews through defense regularly.
Please, pay no attention to the fact that both of these teams had invested in their offensive line before focusing on finding the running back. Pay no attention to the fact that neither of these teams were extremely successful last season, they are making the best running backs in the league available, and the Steelers need to pounce!
Let’s actually examine this situation
I hope you are beginning to see my point and pick up on the sarcasm. No, it isn’t that this team should try and bring in either of these backs. My point is, the Steelers went about trying to bring back their running game in the wrong way, and those that are still so adamantly defending Harris as a great first-round pick are wrong.
Let’s look at this from a league perspective first. Having a bell-cow back isn’t necessary to win. The Chiefs just won the Super Bowl led by a seventh-round rookie and journeyman back at the helm. The Eagles, who were runners up, had more of a defined top back in Miles Sanders, but also mixed it up with the reserves and used quarterback Jalen Hurts as a running back.
The reason the Eagles made the sudden jump to a Super Bowl offense wasn’t because of their running game. It actually regressed from 2021 slightly, but their passing game took off. Every consistent Super Bowl contender has a dynamic passing game. It’s how the league works now. A defined starting running back isn’t a way to overcome a lacking passing offense.
The Titans were the perfect example of this. They were the AFC South champions for two consecutive years between 2020-2021. Their offense was designed entirely around Henry and his style of running. It won them games, but once they hit the playoffs, they stalled out. This past season Henry was still his usual self, but the offense imploded due to a lack of a receiving game.
How about Cleveland? This is a team that, due to bringing in Deshaun Watson, is in win now mode. They need some cap relief, and who is the first player they look at moving? Their star running back. They aren’t making cuts to the line or on defense, but they know that despite his talent, Chubb won’t be the key to a potential Browns Super Bowl run.
What does this mean for the Steelers?
For all of you adamant Harris fans, why wouldn’t you want Henry/Chubb? Either are upgrades (and if you claim Harris is better than either you are delusional) and if you are so behind overspending for a nonpremium position, adding either should be appealing.
It’s time to admit that Harris was the wrong pick when the Steelers took him. Taking a running back to completely fix a running game is a proven bad strategy. Addressing the line was the way to go, and there were names that made sense in the first round there over Harris.
Harris is halfway through his rookie deal and likely only has 3-4 more seasons of effective play left given how quickly the position deteriorates. This offense has been miserable, and while that isn’t all on Harris, the process of taking him over and addressing other needs was a mistake.
Look, you can like him as a player, but how can you justify him as a first-round pick? The process was backward, and it has negatively impacted this team. The modern team doesn’t need an elite running back. The top teams prove it every year, and teams like the Browns who are trying to get there are now proving it as well. Elite running backs are a luxury for teams that have everything else in place, not as a substitute for the rest of the roster.
Running backs don’t matter that much in a modern NFL offense. A capable line and a few mid-round rookies can get the job done. Instead, the Steelers opted to get a perceived top back, and the results have been as expected. This is yet another reason why this offense has sunk into mediocrity over the past few seasons, and it's frustrating to see people so passionately defend this process.