2014 Steelers Draft Need: Speed Back To Compliment Bell

By Jeremy Hritz

While the Steelers running game has not been dominant this season, it has improved greatly with Le’Veon Bell serving as the team’s bellcow. Bell, who broke the Steelers dubious streak of 23 games without a 100-yard rusher against the Packers, has proven to be a pile-pusher and a guaranteed three yards on any given carry. While the Steelers haven’t been outstanding on third downs this year, Bell’s production has put the Steelers in manageable situations, rather than menacing third and longs with the potential to result in punts, sacks, and turnovers.

Bell has proven to be a workhorse back capable of 20-25 carries without any loss of effectiveness; however, he does not appear to have the elite speed to consistently break off long runs. While this is not what the Steelers expected from Bell, the element of explosiveness at the running back position is something that is needed in 2014 to complement what is developing into a position of strength. At the draft in May, it would not be surprising to see the Steelers to draft a scat back in the later rounds in the mold of Chris Rainey, minus the domestic violence issues.

Whereas Bell would punish defenses by grinding out the difficult yards, a smaller, more explosive back could provide for a unique element to the offense that could threaten the defense in a way similar to Darren Sproles.

The Steelers had planned on using La’Rod Stephens-Howling in that role during the season, yet an unfortunate knee injury prevented that vision from being realized. As a result, it is unlikely that the Steelers will bring him back for the 2014 season since they can more than likely land a scatback in the later rounds of the draft.

In addition to a big wide receiver, having a quick-burst, a change of pace back may be the missing piece in the surging offense, and more than likely, there will be one in place for next season. But how early would the Steelers spend a pick on a change of pace back? Considering all of their needs, it probably won’t happen until after the third round.

So what running backs fit that mold in 2014? Here is a quick preview of potential draftees that could be on the Steelers radar in the later rounds come May 2014:

Dri Archer, Kent State – 5’8, 175 – Projected Draft Round: 3rd – 4th: Injured ankle during senior year. Still carried the ball 68 times for a 7.8-yard average and recorded 25 catches for 327 yards. Great speed, running an estimated 4.4 40-yard dash, in addition to outstanding acceleration and agility.

De’Anthony Thomas (junior), Oregon – 5’9, 169 – Projected Draft Round: 2nd – 4th: 93 carries for 581 yards and a 6.2 yard per carry average. Injured during the 2013 season. Elite top-end speed but slight build raising durability concerns. Upstanding character and hard worker.

James White, Wisconsin – 5’10, 195 – Projected Draft Round: 5th Round: Rushed for 1337 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior, in addition to 37 receptions and 292 yards. Has scored 48 total touchdowns in his career. Small but has handled heavy workload at Wisconsin. Solid speed with the ability to cut on a dime.

Ladarius Perkins, Mississippi – 5’9, 195 – Projected Draft Round: 6th-7th Round: 124 carries for 495 yards and two touchdowns during his senior year on a 6-6 Mississippi State team. High-character player with tremendous speed and burst but lacks size and power.

  • DrakePirate

    A complimentary scat back would add great value to our Offense … would love if De’Anthony Thomas fell in the draft, but i don’t think we can afford to draft a back until the 5th rnd or possibly a complimentary 4th rounder … I haven’t really started looking at the options but are those really all there are ?

  • lefnor

    There are other capable receiveing RBs. Rajion Neal for example. He is a great route runner and good ZBS RB.
    Or two junior RB: Devante Freeman and Brandon Bigelow. They would be perfect fits.
    Freeman is the better prospect, he is a 2nd-3rd round prospect. Bigelow and Neal are 4th-6th round prospects.

  • Andrew Grigsby

    I agree don’t want to take a back any earlier than the 5th round. I watch a lot of B10 football & would like to see James White as a Steeler next yr. Guy is small but is very fast and would be a great 3rd down back imo. Has nice hands and a good ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

  • CW

    What about Jeff Scott out of Ole Miss. He’s fast, has played effectively as a scatback, a receiver, and a kick and punt returner.

    And he’s probably going to be there in the last two rounds of the draft because his college hasn’t exactly been on fire recently in winning games.

  • DrakePirate

    It would be perfect if we can get one that doubles as a KR … we definitely need an upgrade over jones there ! Freeman runs with some serious power and aggressiveness for being a quick back, but seems to be more of an all around back than a complimentary scat back … going to be interesting to see which route they take … too bad the rainey pick didn’t work out … hopefully we make a better choice this time !

  • mem359

    How well can a scat back do pass blocking?
    I think that, more than anything else, will keep that type of player from being a “need”. (Unless the coaches think the offensive line will be formidable the next year.)

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Dri Archer is fun to watch plus he can PR/KR but he is so small not sure how much abuse the young man will take.

  • Jones

    Why so quick to abandon LSH? I thought what we saw of him was positive.

  • dgh57

    If he will be replaces Felix Jones and can return KOs I’m all for it but only in the later rounds.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I’d like to see the Steelers make an offer to T.J. Ward in the offseason. He’ll be an UFA, and the word is the Browns haven’t made any move toward signing him (typical of Cleveland to let their valuable players walk). We have additional needs at safety/secondary, and he may well be attainable for a reasonable price. I like Shark a lot, but it would also help to have a talented guy with experience, given that Clark is likely gone, and Troy is no spring chicken.

  • David Edward

    You are spot on Jeremy, the Steelers need a speedy change-of-pace back to compliment Bell. With Dwyer, Felix, and LSH all FAs, I think only one of them will be brought back and another backup will come from the draft. Look for Dwyer to be the one that is re-signed. I like Perkins and White as possible third day targets. Perkins would be a good fit because he can do a bit of everything and serve as the KR. It’s not a deep year for RBs, so if they don’t get what they are looking for the the draft, they may come back to LSH if he’s not signed elsewhere.

  • AndyR34

    Because we abandon just about everybody that doesn’t live up to OUR expectations. In addition…the guy we know nothing about…drafted or UDFA…is always a better choice than someone you know something about…they have UPSIDE while the guy you know apparently doesn’t. JMO.

  • LucasY59

    I think De’Anthony Thomas is worth taking in the 5th if he is available, Much better than the last 3rd Down RB/KR/PR the Steelers picked in the 5th Rd. (after that draft mistake and the Hernadez Murder, Pouncey should never be trusted for character judgment) Rainey was a good KR and that was a part of the ST that was missing this year. If the player does nothing other than give the team a chance to start a drive better than the 20 and a threat to bring the kick out of the endzone (since most kickoffs are touchbacks now) and have the potential to break any pass, run or kick for a TD, a homerun threat is needed on this team.

  • Matt Searls

    a speed back might be good but i dont think he would be used very much. odds are bell will be a better receiver and a blocker, so they will want him in on 3rd downs. i could be wrong but i just dont see the need.

  • MexSteeler

    How about Ray Graham out of Pitt? He’s on the practice squad. Do you think he could make the 53 next year?

  • 2443scott

    with how bell is getting alot passes as well …might be a good idea to get some one with passing hands as well if they go that route but with the thought of releaseing alot vets again this year i dont see them drafting one and picking one or two up after draft ..another wr – te – and dbs ..lt would be interesting though if a qb falls in 3rd to 4th rd what would they do …should be a well waited draft this year

  • gene mann

    Graham has signed elsewhere

  • technoabc1

    The Steelers will not draft a RB, they will draft a DT first round and move Steve Mclendon to DE, Keisel if he does come back will be offered veteran minimum 900K but that may even be to much for a 36 year old DE and may not happen. In the second round they will take a FS.

  • Nick Sabatella

    Definitely don’t see this as a need, we have LSH and Felix Jones. LSH was looking like our best back [being able to read the outside zone running scheme with the speed to hit the holes] and he can receive out of the backfield. How about instead of investing another pick on a position of strength, lets just draft more lineman who hopefully are not made of glass and can provide quality depth and competition, or maybe be our next Kelvin Beachum—-but the run blocking version.