Steelers ‘Wrecking Ball’ Rookie With Ties to Willie Parker Forges Path to Roster

Getty Steelers RB Jaylen Warren stretches of the end zone.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are all about family ties. We found that out quickly when they signed fullback Derek Watt and paid him a boatload of money to play almost exclusively on special teams. In the 2022 NFL draft, the Steelers selected Cam Heyward’s tight end brother, Connor, at No. 208 overall.

And, for the longest time, the Steelers had two other brothers on the roster in safety Terrell Edmunds and running back Trey Edmunds.

The most recent connection involves a throwback to the Bill Cowher era. In May, the Steelers signed undrafted college free agent running back Jaylen Warren, cousin of Willie Parker.

Soon after Warren was signed, Parker called to remind him of their similar paths. Parker also came to the Steelers as an undrafted college free agent.

“He was telling me what to expect, what routines I should get into, like reading, all kinds of things,” Warren told Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell. “He was also telling me his mess-ups and giving me insight into what not to do. It was a great talk.”

A baker’s dozen years since he left the NFL, “Fast Willie” remains beloved by Steelers fans for his heroic 75-yard touchdown in Super Bowl 40. The run broke the record (previously set in Super Bowl 18 by Raiders’ Marcus Allen) for the longest rushing touchdown in Super Bowl history and still stands 16 years later.

Path to the Steelers Roster

Jaylen Warren’s 2,037 yards and 19 touchdowns in three years (28 games) at Utah State and Oklahoma State earned him praise in Lance Zierlein’s scouting report for “Wrecking ball on wheels who plays with the type of pace and power that makes tape study a lot of fun.”

“Wrecking ball on wheels? I’ve done that multiple times,” Warren said with a laugh. “I mean, that’s how you score touchdowns. Whatever helps the team.”

Warren knew helping the team would not come without an uphill battle with established players in the running back room. But he earned a team-high 53 carries in camp and played aggressively on special teams; the latter is critical to making the team.

“You got Benny (Snell), you got (Anthony) McFarland… I felt like, just put my head down and work and whatever happens, happens,” Warren said in a media scrum after his first preseason game versus the Seattle Seahawks.

So far, what’s happened is Warren has all but secured a spot on the 53-man roster. Not only is he projected to make the roster, but he’s being considered for the No. 2 spot behind Najee Harris.

In Week 1 of the preseason, Warren showed his chops, rushing for 34 yards on six carries (5.7 average) and adding four receptions for 30 yards and a touchdown. Versus the Jacksonville Jaguars the following week, Warren didn’t fare as well (three attempts for three yards), but none of the running backs did. He corralled all three targets in the passing game for 24 yards. Having a back who is an asset to the air attack is crucial for this evolving Steelers offense.

“I have some speed,” Warren told Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell. “Maybe I don’t have Willie Parker speed. He was really fast. But I do have some speed and some good instincts.”

“I feel like I got more to prove,” Warren told Steelers media. “I just don’t want to have [any] mental errors and gain trust in any situation that I’m put in.”

“My run game, I think they just like my hustle. I don’t like to show any quit in my game, and I think it’s kind of stuck out more than anything.”

The one blemish to Warren’s game so far has been ball security. He fumbled in camp and during the Steelers’ preseason opener. Since then, Warren hasn’t fumbled the ball away, which could be attributed to carrying the ball around campus in Latrobe.

Najee Harris’ Year-Two Role

Najee Harris missed two weeks of training camp nursing a foot injury, which opened the door for Warren and others.

“It’s frustrating, but there are a lot of other guys here, and I get to see their skillsets,” Harris said via Ray Fittipaldo of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s been a blessing in disguise in a way. Not getting hurt, but getting to see these other guys get more reps.”

More reps for the guys behind Harris are especially critical this preseason, as the Steelers have plans to lighten his workload.

“We are doing that a lot this year (that) I will not be on the field, I guess, (as much),” Harris said in a June 7 press conference. “I will be on the field a lot — but on certain downs, I will not be on the field. Just (pick my spots), I guess. Extra rest.”

Based on Harris’ rookie season, in which he led the NFL in snaps (1,036) and touches (381), he could use the downtime. If the Steelers want to keep Harris’ wheels on, someone else will have to tote the rock from time to time.

Harris will make his preseason debut in the finale against the Detroit Lions on August 28.

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