INDIANAPOLIS — Until Monday night, running back Benny Snell had been relegated to an afterthought in the story of the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the first 10 games of his fourth NFL season, Snell did not have a single carry. He played only three offensive snaps.
The former fourth-round pick out of Kentucky was once a relied-upon member of the Steelers backfield. Snell had a strong rookie season in 2019 and established himself as a reliable change-of-pace option and backup to oft-injured starter James Conner. That season, Snell was nearly the equal of the more-established back. Conner ran for four yards per carry, while Snell ran for 3.9.
In 2020, the role was much the same, with Snell rushing 111 times to Conner’s 169. But the carries didn’t come as easily for the second-year back, and he was unable to repeat his rookie performance, averaging 3.3 yards per attempt.
When Conner left the Steelers drafted Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, it was assumed that Harris would assume the starter’s role. But it was far from obvious right away just how much he would come to dominate the position.
Harris ended up leading all NFL running backs in snaps and rushing attempts while all but running Snell out of the now Matt Canada-led Steelers offense. Snell had just 36 carries for 98 yards last season, and some — perhaps many — thought it was probably time for him to move on.
He addressed those messages head-on in the locker room this spring, confronting Steelers Now reporter Nick Farabaugh about talk of Snell being a potential cut. Snell and Farabaugh hashed things out. But the message delivered was a clear sign that Snell was not satisfied to let his chance at success in the NFL so simply slip away.
“I can’t get too caught up in what he say and she say,” he said back in April. “It’s all about myself. I’ve got something to prove, so I’m putting my head down and getting to work.”
That work paid off in a big way on Monday. The Steelers started the game without usual change of pace Jaylen Warren and lost starter Najee Harris in the second quarter to an abdominal strain.
Into the breach went Snell, taking what head coach Mike Tomlin called a “battlefield promotion” and making the most of it. Snell ran 12 times for 62 yards against the Colts for a 5.2 yards per carry average. His two-yard scamper into the end zone in the fourth quarter gave the Steelers the lead for good.
The Steelers are back on top 👏
Benny Snell anytime TD scorer: (+800) ✅
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) November 29, 2022
“Guys like Benny Snell became a central part of what we were doing offensively, and he was still on punt team, he was still on punt return, he was still on kickoff,” Tomlin said.
Snell quickly left the visitor’s locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium after the game, off to visit some family in for the game.
His hometown of Westerville, Ohio is just a little ways down Interstate 70 from the Colts home venue.
But Snell’s teammates had no problems signing his praise in his absence.
“It’s a ton of fun, especially because I played with Benny a lot in the pre-season,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “We have a great relationship, and when we’re in there together, I have nothing but extreme confidence that he’s going to do his job and I’ll do mine. He’s a guy that has an edge to him and plays really hard, man, so I absolutely love playing with Benny and what he does for us when he’s in, that kind of juice he brings, that edge to him.
“He runs angry, you know? A detailed guy. Really hasn’t got many snaps and comes in here and does his job at a really high level. Nothing but extremely great things to say about Benny and really proud of how he played, and it was awesome to see.”
The Steelers will likely hope to get Harris and Warren back into the mix for Week 13, but with a short week upcoming after the Monday Night Football victory, there could be more Benny Snell Football in store for the Steelers. They seem just fine with that.
“Benny has been doing that, putting that on film and showing that he can run the ball like that,” wide receiver Diontae Johnson said. “As many touches as he can get, he’s only going to get better and he’s shown that. He almost broke one today. He’s just been working hard and staying patient. I told him, whenever his opportunities come, just to take advantage of them. He’s been doing it.”