Steelers Sign Former Titans ‘All-Purpose’ Running Back

Getty Titans running back Jeremy McNichols runs the ball.

The Pittsburgh Steelers wasted no time filling the roster spot left by the July 25 release of veteran running back Trey Edmunds with the acquisition of Jeremy McNichols.

The Steelers are the eighth team in six seasons for McNichols. The 5-foot-9 running back was selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but was cut after training camp. From there, McNichols bounced around the league’s practice squads, including stints with the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans and, most recently, the Atlanta Falcons.

In his second stop in Tennessee, McNichols found the most success. Over 30 games in 2020 and 2021, he recorded 655 all-purpose yards (360 rushing, 295 receiving) and one score on the ground and in the air.

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What the Scouts Say

Jeremy McNichols was touted as an “all-purpose talent” coming out of Boise State in 2017. He spent most of his collegiate career backing up Jay Ajayi, but after Ajayi moved on to the NFL, McNichols shined. He carried his share of the offense with 1,337 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing, 460 receiving yards and six touchdowns. McNichols’ 26 total scores tied him for second in the FBS and helped earn him second-team All-Mountain West pick in 2015. He repeated second-team all-conference honors in his junior season, ranking in the top 10 in rushing yards per game (138.6) and all-purpose yards (2,255).

Though scouting reports initially saw McNichols as having “potential to develop into a starter,” that potential has yet to be realized.

Where McNichols Fits in With Steelers

The Steelers’ running back stable remains an area of concern, but bringing in an experienced triple-threat back (rushing, receiving, returns) could help.

Benny Snell has underwhelmed in a backup role, averaging 3.5 yards per attempt over three seasons. Undrafted free agents Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren are unproven. If McNichols can pick up things quickly in camp and show glimpses of what he was with the Titans, he has a chance to supplant Snell.

McNichols has the right attitude to do it, too. Coming off a career receiving yards performance in Week 4 last season, McNichols told reporters, “When those opportunities come, you just gotta make ’em.”

“I’m all about winning. Whatever it takes to win.”

Najee Harris’ Workload

While Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t believe in running back rotations, running Najee Harris into the ground will all but guarantee a brief career in Pittsburgh. Harris is all for being the workhorse, so they’ve got to feed him.

“Last year, no other offensive rookie was put in the position I was in,” Harris told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a story published July 25. “What I mean by that is I had to come in and be the head honcho, be the focal point of the team. I took that in. They told me that. I knew it was going to be a long season. Ben was finishing up his career, so there was a lot on my shoulders. Any time they give me the crown, to be that type of guy, I’m going to run with it.”

And he did, setting a franchise rookie record with 1,667 scrimmage yards (1,200 rushing, 467 receiving) and 10 touchdowns. In addition to breaking Franco Harris’ rookie record for most rushing yards, he also set franchise rookie records for most receptions (74).

Incredibly, Najee Harris led all rookie running backs last season in rushing yards, touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards, first downs and yards from scrimmage.

Fittipaldo wrote that running backs coach Eddie Faulkner spent much of the offseason studying Harris’s usage as a rookie: “Faulkner’s main takeaway from his research was he’d like to lighten the load a bit for the 2022 season and rest Harris in different situations.”

“I know Najee can carry the load at a very high level, but I think it is smart to find ways to take some stuff off of him with the guys that are supporting him,” Faulkner told Fittipaldo. “So that’s something that we’re looking at, and we’ll just let it kind of play out and see how guys’ roles fit, and maybe a guy rises to that Number 2 spot, and maybe we kind of patchwork and see how it goes from there.”

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