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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • walter mason

    We are in a better RB position than we had been the past couple years. Archer was not an adequate replacement. Has anyone signed him yet? Now we have 3 backs that can be relied upon to run and block. We could possibly resign Todman or pick up an udfa or one that is released from another team and stash one on the practice squad.

  • Rusted Out

    We needed every one of those backs last year, and they’re all solid. Would love be 4 deep at RB.

  • 58Steel

    I believe the Jets signed him shortly after the season ended.

  • Paddy

    They will have to draft a RB, Bell is uncertain at this time and his contract will be expensive.

  • Steelers072684

    We should grab Devontae Booker, If he’s available, in the 3rd round.

  • walter mason

    I think we keep Bell. The only question may be his injuries.

  • walter mason

    Yea true we needed every one. But injuries can do that. 3 RB injuries and we are screwed. But the same could be said for 1 Qb injury, or 1 or 2 DL injuries or OT would be disastrous. I’m happy opening the season with those 3 and 1 on the PS.

  • Paddy

    Yep, the injuries bother me a lot.

  • I wish we could land Tyler Ervin as a reserve RB, KR, and PR, but he’ll be gone by the 6th. If Beachum walks, it’s likely they’ll draft OL with one of the first four picks; the other three will be slotted for defense. I know they looked closely at TE Vannett at the OSU pro day–perhaps they’re looking for a blocking TE with all around upside to replace Spaeth [who, as Dave said in yesterday’s podcast, has suffered increasing health issues the past two years over the constant pounding in the trenches]. It’s my guess, however, they’d only draft him if 1] player losses due to FA don’t force them to restock other positions, or 2] his value per how the team rates him is significantly higher than anyone else who’s available when they pick. This latter stipulation was suggested in the podcast and it makes perfect sense.