The 2012 draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a few weeks behind us now. I have already posted about the state of the offensive and defensive line positions following the draft and today we will look at the state of the running back depth chart following the draft.
Rashard Mendenhall – Mendenhall is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is likely to start the 2012 season on the PUP list as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in the 2011 season finale against the Cleveland Browns. Should Mendenhall indeed start the season on the PUP list he will miss the first six games automatically. General Manager Kevin Colbert has stated that he is never comfortable with an ACL recovery until a year after the injury, but that does not mean that Mendenhall will not be able to contribute at some point during the season. A realistic return of Mendenhall to the Steelers 53 man roster is likely to be around week 11 or 12 and hopefully the rest of the running backs on the roster can carry the load until he is ready to contribute in some form or fashion.
Isaac Redman – Redman returns as an exclusive free agent and figures to be lead running back with Mendenhall likely out to start the season. Redman has improved in every facet of his game since being signed as an undrafted free agent and that includes the little things like blitz recognition and pick-up. Redman has also shown he is a reliable target out of the backfield as well in the passing game and is as violent of a runner between the tackles as any other running back in the league. He hardly ever goes down on first contact and is always fighting for the additional yardage. The jury is out on if Redman can be an every down back, but he might not be asked to be that under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who might use a combination of backs to help lighten the load on Redman.
Jonathan Dwyer – It sure felt like more but Dwyer played less than 30 snaps on offense last year at running back in three different games. His biggest highlight last season was his 76 yard run against the Tennessee Titans in week 5 as Mendenhall was sidelined with an injury. Dwyer also saw some limited action on special teams before breaking his foot late in the week 13 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Dwyer was eventually placed on injured reserve and has since recovered from his surgery. With Mendenhall expected to be sidelined for the first part of the season, Dwyer has a golden opportunity to serve as a backup to Redman. He plans to workout down in Florida with Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons in July in an effort to arrive at training camp in tip-top shape. He will face a ton of competition in camp and will have to earn his roster spot by also contributing on special teams.
John Clay – Clay was activated to the 53 man roster after Dwyer went down, but like Dwyer, he also saw just under 30 snaps of playing time on offense. He scored a touchdown on his very first NFL carry against the St. Louis Rams and not too many players can say that. He is far from being a complete back and he has his work cut out for him to make the 53 man roster. In fact, he and Dwyer could likely be battling for the same roster spot on the 53 as it seems unlikely that both will make unless injuries occur. Clay runs well with the football, but is the other things related to the position that are a concern when the ball is not in his hands. He very well could be a practice squad candidate should he not make the roster.
Baron Batch – Batch was the superstar of training camp last year and it looked like he was on course to supplant Mewelde Moore as the third down, change of pace back last season based on camp reports. Unfortunately Batch tore his ACL just prior to the start of the preseason and he spent his rookie season on injured reserve rehabbing. By all accounts Batch will be ready to go again by the time training camp gets started and he must prove the knee is no longer an issue and that he can repeat the solid camp he had his rookie season. Batch is fearless and effective in blitz pickup and great in open space out of the backfield in the passing game. With Moore not currently on the roster, Batch has an opportunity to assume that role, especially if he can contribute on special teams. He should have no problem picking up the new offense of Haley and figures to get plenty of opportunities in the preseason to prove his worth. Hopefully the knee does not fail him.
Chris Rainey – The Steelers fifth round draft pick could become a Dexter McCluster type toy for Haley in 2012. Rainey is certainly not an every down back as his smallish build will not let him be a between the tackles type runner. What Rainey is however, is a play-maker and his ability to also line up in the slot and catch the ball out of the backfield will make him a hard player for defenses he faces to account for. Rainey also could be in contention to be both the punt and kickoff return man and his ability to run the route tree could give the Steelers the ability to carry just 5 wide receivers on the 53 out of training camp because of his versatility. The only thing that figures to keep Rainey from making the week one roster is Rainey himself. He could be the type of back that gets 4-7 snaps on offense a game.
Post Draft Prediction 53 Man Roster Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall – PUP