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.