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The Pessimist’s Take: Running Back Depth

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Should the Steelers be comfortable with their running back depth?

When the Steelers entered the 2015 regular season, they did so with three true running backs on the roster, as well as Dri Archer, whom the team seemed to be resigned to the reality as almost purely a special teams player. They had Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, of course. The third running back, however, as a new face, whom we only saw during the preseason in a Panthers jersey.

Of the myriad running backs that the team brought to camp, all failed to make the 53-man roster, or even the practice squad, though three of their more prominent options were all waived with a variety of injuries, and of those three, only one even made it to the first preseason game.

So it was Jordan Todman, a veteran journeyman of a few years and a moderate amount of playing experience, and eventually Fitzgerald Toussaint was added to the practice squad. Over the course of the season, Bell was injured, Toussaint was promoted to the 53-man roster, and then passed Todman on the depth chart.

By the time the postseason arrived, Toussaint was on top of the depth chart due to injury, and he did okay all around considering the circumstances, outside of the fumble that pivoted the Steelers toward a playoff exit.

But Todman is a free agent now, and the Steelers have just Bell, Williams, and Toussaint, along with a slew of Reserve/Future players. Is this sufficient, especially considering the age, injury history, and contract statuses of their top two backs?

With the team understanding that the end of the road was approaching for Heath Miller, they did not hesitate to turn over stones looking for tight end help last year, and they even carried four of them in addition to a fullback, with the potentiality in mind of grooming for the future.

Williams will be 34 and a free agent in 2017. Bell will be a free agent in 2017 as well if he is not extended this offseason, and now how two notable injuries in his history. And the Steelers have not added meaningful young depth since drafting Bell, hoping instead to bolster the position through free agency.

It doesn’t help that the Steelers are without their natural fifth- and sixth-round draft picks this year, but a late-round addition to add competition and depth (including the practice squad), considering the potential reality they could be facing, may be a wise idea.

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