Steelers Sign Ex-Dolphins, Chargers Running Back

Kalen Ballage

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images Kalen Ballage of the Los Angeles Chargers leaps over teammate Gabe Nabers during the first half against the New York Jets on November 22, 2020.

On Tuesday the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that they have signed running back Kalen Ballage to a one-year contract.

Ballage—6-foot-2, 231 pounds—is entering his fourth season in the NFL, having produced 629 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns over the course of his career. He also has 52 receptions for 285 yards, an average of 5.5 yards per catch.

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Kalen Ballage’s NFL Journey

Ballage, 25, entered the NFL in 2018 as a fourth-round pick of the Miami Dolphins (No. 131 overall) out of Arizona State University. He spent two years in Miami and played in 24 games (including six starts), but the Dolphins decided to move on from him after he averaged just 1.8 yards a carry in 2019.

The Dolphins proceeded to trade him to the division rival New York Jets in August 2020 for a conditional 2021 seventh-round draft pick. He didn’t get many opportunities in New York, playing in just three games and getting three carries with nine receptions, after which he was added to the practice squad of the Los Angeles Chargers.

He went on to appear in eight games (two starts) in Los Angeles, where he evinced his strongest production to date, rushing 88 times for 290 yards and three touchdowns. But so far, his enviable combination of size and speed (he ran a 4.46 at the Combine in 2018) hasn’t really translated to the NFL.

Notably, the Peyton, Colo. native didn’t seem to put it all together at Arizona State, either, though there were moments of brilliance. Most notably, as a junior in 2016 he had the game of a lifetime against Texas Tech, rushing the ball 13 times for 137 yards with seven touchdowns, while also adding two receptions for 48 yards and another touchdown. In the process he tied the Football Bowl Subdivision record for most total touchdowns in a game (eight) and became the only player in history to accomplish the feat against a Power Five opponent.

As for the situation in Pittsburgh, the running game probably can’t get any worse than it was in 2020, when the Steelers produced the fewest rushing yards in the NFL (1,351) and also averaged a league-low 3.6 yards per carry.

At the moment, Pittsburgh’s No. 1 back, James Conner, remains an unrestricted free agent, so Ballage will be competing with Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr. and Trey Edmunds for a roster spot and/or playing time. It also seems a certainty that the Steelers will spend a draft pick on a running back in the forthcoming NFL draft, even if Conner is somehow retained in free agency.

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Steelers Also Announce the Signing of Rashaad Coward

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the Steelers also formally announced the signing of former Chicago Bears offensive lineman Rashaad Coward, which was first reported by NFL media on Monday. The possibility that Coward would be signing with the Steelers first came to light over the weekend, surfaced by a Reddit user who had been randomly paired up with Coward’s wife while playing Call of Duty: Warzone online. The Reddit user in question, who goes by the user name ProbationOfficer2035, eavesdropped on Rashaad discussing the possibility of playing for the Steelers via his wife’s open mic.

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