In 2018, the Pittsburgh Steelers saw the emergence of second-year running back James Conner, who rushed for 973 yards and 12 TD’s in just 12 starts. Rookie Jaylen Samuels also made his presence felt in limited opportunities, which includes a 142 yard performance on the ground in a win against the New England Patriots.
After putting an end to the Le’Veon Bell saga, the Steelers will move forward with one of the best young backfield tandems in the AFC.
However, they’re not content with just Conner and Samuels.
There’s a variety of reasons as to why they are seeking out more help. Aside from the health of Conner already raising concerns (Season-ending MCL surgery in 2017, missed three weeks in 2018 to lower-body injuries) and the inability for Samuels to handle duties between the tackles, the numbers tell the story: The Steelers just weren’t able to successfully run the ball enough last season.
Pittsburgh ranked second to last in rushing offense last season, hitting a mere 90.3 rushing yards per game. With 4.2 yards per carry (24th in the league) on 345 attempts (31st in the league), Pittsburgh has derived well from the norm of the typical formula of running the football.
The above resulted in Ben Roethlisberger throwing for over 5,000 yards in 2018, a first in a long career for Roethlisberger. 2018 also saw Ben attempt a remarkable 675 passes, out-gaining his previous personal best by 67 throws.
Today’s modern style of football yields a high-flying, gaudy quarterback performance-style of play. That’s great for fantasy football players, yet the Steelers are trying to win championships, a feat they’ve yet to capture since the 2008-2009 season. It’s no secret running the football mostly leads to postseason success, and Pittsburgh recognizes that.
Through two days of pre-draft visits, the Steelers have hosted five running backs: Jordan Scarlett (Florida), Mike Weber (Ohio State), Travis Homer (Miami FL), Miles Sanders (Penn State) and Damien Harris (Alabama).
While all five running backs offer a different tool-set, Sanders remains the cream of the five man crop, and for good reason.
Miles Sanders looking like Saquon at his alma mater 🧐
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 13, 2018
The Steelers are still expected to go defensive-heavy in the early rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. Pittsburgh has yet to bring in any top RB talent aside from Sanders (his visit doesn’t count towards the maximum 30 a team is allowed since he played locally), signaling the team is evaluating mid to late round options for potential ball-carriers.
We are still weeks away from the draft, yet the Steelers are all in on finding a third piece to the puzzle in the backfield.