Steelers Urged to ‘Supplement’ Key Offensive Position

Mike Tomlin

Getty Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers are being encouraged to add a running back in free agency.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have addressed a lot of their needs through the NFL draft and free agency this offseason. But one position the Steelers haven’t made any additions to this spring has been running back.

Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon proposed general manager Omar Khan changing that before the start of the 2023 season.

On a list of one move every NFL team still needs to make this offseason, Kenyon argued for the Steelers to add depth at running back.

“Najee Harris is the undisputed starter, while Jaylen Warren emerged as a quality backup in his rookie year,” Kenyon wrote. “Behind them, however, the Steelers have unproven options with Anthony McFarland Jr., Master Teague and Jason Huntley among them.

“Pittsburgh can find any number of veteran backs to supplement the position.”

The Steelers have actually released Teague and added undrafted running back free agent Alfonzo Graham in May. The Steelers also signed fullback Monte Pottebaum this offseason.

But Kenyon’s point remains. The Steelers’ backs on the depth chart after Warren have a combined 60 career carries.

Steelers Lack of Running Back Depth

The Steelers are one of the last remaining NFL offense that plays one running back a majority of the time in all situations. As Kenyon mentioned, that’s Najee Harris, the clear-cut starter in the Steelers backfield.

Harris hasn’t missed a game since arriving in Pittsburgh as a first-round pick in 2021. Over the last two seasons, he’s played approximately 75% of the team’s offensive snaps.

Then last season, Jaylen Warren emerged as a nice complimentary weapon to Harris. He lined up for 31% of Pittsburgh’s snaps on offense in 2022.

That left very little playing time for any other running back. Third-stringer Benny Snell played a career-low 42 offensive snaps last season. He had just 22 touches, including 20 carries for 90 yards.

Snell, though, left in free agency this offseason. While the Steelers aren’t losing much production with his departure, they could still use another experienced running back in case of injury.

McFarland accounts for most of those 60 career carries the Steelers depth running backs have combined to record. McFarland has rushed for 146 yards on 42 attempts, but 33 of those carries came during his rookie season in 2020.

Over the past two years, he’s dressed for just three contests and recorded only 9 carries.

Huntley posted 18 carries for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2020-21. He didn’t play at all last year.

As undrafted free agents, Graham and Pottebaum have never played in an NFL game.

Free Agent RBs the Steelers Could Target

The Steelers could be in trouble if they lose one of their top two running backs, especially Harris, to injury this fall. But the good news is, as Kenyon mentioned, there is a plethora of available veteran running backs.

Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt are the top available veteran backs, but none of them seem like a fit for the Steelers. All three of those backs are likely looking for more playing time than Pittsburgh could offer.

Rex Burkhead is an interesting possibility. The 32-year-old caught a career-high 37 passes for 204 yards with the Houston Texans last season. He’s hauled in at least 25 receptions each of the past four years.

He could compliment Harris and Warren as a third-down receiving back. His 10 years in the league make him an appealing option to replace either back in the short term if an injury occurs.

Giovani Bernard and Darrel Williams are other potential fits. In 2021, Bernard and Williams each had at least 21 receptions and 2 receiving touchdowns.

Like Burkhead, Bernard has 10 years of NFL experience. Burkhead and Williams have each won a Super Bowl ring.

The Steelers could also consider bringing back Snell. He remains unsigned.

With the amount of veteran running backs still available in free agency, the Steelers don’t have to rush in adding another back. They could even enter the season with their current backfield depth and not sign a veteran running back unless an injury occurs.

But being proactive in adding depth is never a bad strategy.

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