Steelers Poised for Committee Approach at Running Back
The Pittsburgh Steelers are terrible at keeping secrets, aren’t they?
Through the entire draft process, the Steelers were all but shy when being linked to Michigan linebacker Devin Bush. The Steelers coveted Bush, and come draft day, GM Kevin Colbert pulled the trigger on a trade that would allow them to move up ten spots and get the inside linebacker they so desperately wanted. While the city of Pittsburgh celebrated the new chosen one, the Steelers also satisfied another need with the selection of Kentucky running back Benny Snell.
While the pick was a surprise to some, Pittsburgh made no attempts at hiding their desire to add another young ball-carrier to go along with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Pittsburgh brought in seven running backs for their pre-draft visits, and with Le’Veon Bell now (officially) out of the Steelers hair, the team would need to find new avenues to move the football that didn’t involve a heavy dose of touches for a singular ball-carrier.
The arrival of Snell via the 2019 NFL Draft signals the dawn of a new day in Pittsburgh, the beginning of a running back by committee.
Why Use a Committee Approach?
For those who generally may be unaware, the term “committee” is commonly used for a team that utilizes multiple players rather than typically relying on one.
During Le’Veon Bell’s last two seasons in Pittsburgh, the Steelers heavily relied on Bell in both the passing and rushing attack, as Bell amassed a whopping 336 touches in 2016 before topping out at 406 touches in 2017. The end result? No championships, a running back who wanted to reset the market, and locker room problems. Not to say Bell was solely responsible for any of the afore-mentioned results, but Pittsburgh quickly figured out the road to a championship perhaps wasn’t meant to run through a superstar running back in today’s modern NFL.
Thus a committee approach can be more favored, and for proof, you’ll have to look no further than the New England Patriots. Using charts formulated from FantasyPros.com, the Patriots running back by committee approach in 2018 is on full display below.
Using five different backs is the epitome of the committee approach, especially considering when nearly 4/5 backs averaging 20 snaps per game. Patriots running back James White believes the different faces provide defenses with challenges. “Everybody can catch, everybody can block. Coach can call any play no matter who’s in there” said White about the different skill sets everybody brings to the table, “So it keeps guys fresh and defenses have to pay attention to who’s in there”.
White’s words speak true, as the committee approach allows backs to remain fresh, ultimately increasing their chances of remaining healthy and (in theory) maximizing their performance.
This would be especially beneficial for backs such as James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Conner’s injury history suggest that such a heavy workload for one running back may do more harm than good in regards to his health. While Samuels performed well in his duties last season, it would be unreasonable to expect him to carry the ball 25-30 times per game should Conner go down. Drafting a player like Benny Snell and incorporating him in the mix to establish a swiss army knife backfield appeared to be in the Steelers plans all along.
How Will The Committee Approach Be Used?
The skill sets of Conner, Samuels and Snell offer unique aspects to however offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner chooses to deploy them.
Conner will retain his role as the team’s lead back heading into the 2019 season, as his balance of strength+agility proved to be a successful combination last season. Conner will also primarily be the team’s three down running back, depending on the situation. As great as Conner was in 2018, the Steelers are looking to preserve the Pitt product rather than put miles on him. You’ll see Samuels make his appearances mostly in passing scenarios or when the team is lined up in the shotgun formation, as his ability to move in space is likely his best asset as a pass-catching running back. When the Steelers need a change of pace in the backfield, look no further than the downhill running-style of the newly drafted Snell. Snell presents the Steelers with a physical brand of running, a valuable commodity in short yardage/goal-line scenarios.
Snell is physical, Samuels is shifty, and Conner brings a little of both worlds to the table. The Steelers now have three talented running backs at their disposal, and the plan appears to be to utilize all three talents effectively in 2019.