Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin did not tell a lie when he was interviewed at the NFL owner\’s meetings that took place in late March. Tomlin said at that time that the team would likely add a running back this offseason, either via free agency or the draft. The Steelers had in a few running backs in for pre draft visits in the form of Isaiah Pead and LaMichael James, but instead chose to draft running back Chris Rainey in the fifth round this past weekend.
The Steelers brass had good insight on the diminutive back leading up to the draft as Rainey lived with the Pouncey family during his high school years. He played high school football in Lakeland, Florida with both Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Pouncey and the Pouncey family vouched for the character of Rainey, who had a threatening texting incident with an ex-girlfriend hanging over his head as a red flag.
Rainey might be short on size, but he his long on talent. During his time at Florida he just missed joining the Gators\’ “4,000-yard Club” with 3,948 all-purpose yards. That equated to an average of 75.92 yards per game as he contributed as a running back, wide receiver and kick returner. He has blazing 4.4 speed and made it known during his conference call with the media following his selection that he though he might even be faster than Mike Wallace. That is a pretty bold statement for sure, but when you watch Rainey on tape, you can see exactly why he might think just that.
One thing that Rainey will not be in the NFL is an every down running back. Instead he will be an everything else type back. Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley must be giddy right now as he thinks about all of the different ways he can “make it Rainey” on offense! When Haley was the head coach with the Kansas City Chiefs he drafted a player much in the same mold of Rainey in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL draft in the form of Dexter McCluster. During McClusters\’ rookie season Haley lined him up all over the field and he touched the ball 39 times on offense for 280 yards in total. This included 21 receptions for 209 yards and 18 rushes for 71 yards during the regular season. He scored once on offense and 3 of his 39 touches produced explosive plays of 20 yards or more.
In 2011 McCluster received a bigger work load after starter Jamaal Charles was lost for the season early on. He touched the ball on offense 160 times in 2011 and it produced 844 yards of offense. That equates to a 5.28 yards per touch as he caught 46 passes for 328 yards to go along with 516 yards rushing on 114 carries. Let us not forget that McCluster also chipped 729 yards worth of returns his rookie season and another 622 yards on returns just last season. Since being drafted he has produced 2475 all-purpose yards on 269 touches which translates to a 9.2 yards per touch. He has played in 54 regular season games since being drafted and that breaks down to a 45.83 average yards per game contribution for the Chiefs through his first two seasons.
The sky is the limit as far as how Haley might use Rainey, assuming of course he makes the Steelers 53 man roster, but you can bet Haley will if he does. Rainey can do everything except for pass protect well, but that still will not keep him from lining up in the Steelers backfield at times. Rainey has both a running back and wide receiver mentality and is a pretty accomplished route runner. He is slippery when escaping through the offensive line on play action and he would present challenges to defenses that have to account for him when he is on the field. He is the type of player that Haley would likely try to get the ball at least 4 or 5 times a game, maybe more.
The versatility of Rainey as both a running back and wide receiver would allow the Steelers to only carry five other wide receivers on the 53 man roster this year and perhaps only three other running backs. The Steelers carried Arnaz Battle last year as a sixth wide receiver, but his only legitimate way to contribute was on special teams. The Steelers have some questions at running back this year as Rashard Mendenhall will likely start the season on the PUP list as he continues to recover from his torn ACL suffered during the season finale against the Cleveland Browns. Isaac Redman will be the primary back while Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Baron Batch will all fight for roster spots. The Steelers normally like to carry just three running backs on the 53 man roster and now with the addition of Rainey they could likely do just that as the Florida product would then serve as a fourth running back and a sixth wide receiver.
Should Rainey be able to win the punt return job in training camp, it would eliminate quite a deal of unneeded wear and tear on Antonio Brown. Rainey might just be able to win the kick return job in addition from Emmanuel Sanders, who was told heading into the offseason that he would likely be returning both punts and kicks in 2012. The special teams contributions with Rainey does not end with returns either as he set a school record at Florida with six career blocked punts. So if he is not returning punts, he very well could be going after them.
I know this is a lengthy post with high expectations for a Steelers fifth round draft pick, but it is easy to get excited when you think about all of the different ways he could be used if he keeps his head screwed on tight and makes the roster. Should that indeed end up happening, and I am willing to bet it does, you can bet that the Steelers will do everything in their power to get him the ball in games. Tomlin came through with his promise of adding another running back and hopefully the Sunshine State product can “Make it Rainey” on game days in 2012. No umbrellas needed, but you I suggest you bring a towel. A Terrible Towel that is.