Steelers Should Target a Running Back in Free Agency: Analyst

Chris Carson Seahawks

Christian Petersen/Getty Images Running back Chris Carson of the Seattle Seahawks rushes the football against the San Francisco 49ers on January 03, 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a season in which the team finished last in the NFL in rushing, producing a paltry 1,351 rushing yards. Injury-prone fourth-year man James Conner was the only Steelers running back who had any kind of success in 2020 (169 carries, 721 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, six touchdowns), but he is a pending unrestricted free agent.

As for the three other ball carriers on the roster—Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels and rookie Anthony McFarland Jr.—none averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry.

That’s why Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus suggests that the Steelers pursue Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson in free agency.

Carson is a former seventh-round pick of the Seahawks out of Oklahoma State (No. 249 overall). Over the course of his four years in Seattle he has started 44 games and gained 3,270 rushing yards on 715 carries (4.6 yards per carry) while scoring 21 rushing touchdowns.

He has also produced 101 receptions for 775 yards and seven receiving touchdowns, with a better than 80 percent catch rate. Not bad for a seventh-round pick, who happens to be a former college teammate of Steelers backup quarterback Mason Rudolph.

‘Few Players Have Run the Ball Consistently Harder’

One reason Monson likes Carson for the Steelers is his ability to make yards after contact, an attractive trait for a back who will be running behind a line that has struggled to run block.

“Pittsburgh’s rushing offense was the league’s worst this season,” notes the author. “As much as you can reasonably place much of the blame on the offensive line as well as the struggling passing game, the Steelers feel like a team that will want to pursue an upgrade at running back….

That said, “few players have run the ball consistently harder than Chris Carson since he entered the NFL, averaging 3.3 yards per carry after contact and breaking 147 tackles on 744 carries over his NFL career,” offers Monson.

On the downside, Carson is already 27 years old and did earn $2,133,000 in salary in 2020. If he’s looking for a raise the Steelers might prefer to pursue an upgrade via the draft. The Steelers have selected a back in the middle rounds for four consecutive seasons (James Conner, third round 2017), (Jaylen Samuels, fifth round 2018), (Benny Snell Jr., fourth round 2019) and Anthony McFarland Jr., fourth round 2020).

The last time Pittsburgh used a second-round pick on a running back was in 2013, when it selected Le’Veon Bell out of Michigan State. The last time Pittsburgh used a first-round draft pick on a back was in 2008, when the Steelers chose Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois, No. 23 overall).

Monson Suggests That the Saints Pursue Mike Hilton

While you may like the idea of the Steelers getting after Chris Carson in free agency, you may not appreciate Sam Monson suggesting that the New Orleans Saints pursue Steelers slot cornerback Mike Hilton.

“The Saints may have the best roster top-to-bottom in the entire NFL, so it’s not easy to find too many glaring weaknesses and obvious spots to upgrade,” notes the PFF analyst.

“Mike Hilton has been one of the better slot corners in the league for the Steelers and, across his four years in the league, has PFF grades of at least 72.0 in every facet of play over a given season. He can cover, blitz from the slot and defend the run. That would give the Saints a true slot specialist to complement the players they have on the outside.”

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