Bill Barnwell Wants To See Steelers Add Pass-Catching RB

As we inch ever closer to June, we are nearing a point in the football calendar in which there is little for the average football team to do much to bolster their roster. The NFL Draft has already long been over, and the vast majority of the remaining available free agents are largely just scraps.

But if there is one thing that former Football Outsiders and Grantland, and current ESPN writer Bill Barnwell would like to see the Pittsburgh Steelers do between now and the start of the regular season, it would be to add another running back to the mix with a more impressive resume as a receiver for depth.

The premise, of course, is that the Steelers would be missing that skill should Le’Veon Bell go down, and the reality is that he has quite a history of that. He has yet to both start and finish a season through his first four years in the NFL.

Pittsburgh had a fair option as a receiving back over the course of the past two years in DeAngelo Williams, interestingly enough, even though he was never exactly known for that. He had arguably his best season as a pass-catcher in 2015 when he was called upon to start 10 games, posting career-highs with 40 receptions and 367 receiving yards. Last season, he caught two touchdown passes, the most he ever had in any prior season.

Barnwell points out that James Conner, the team’s third-round draft pick at the running back position, “gets mixed reviews for his receiving ability”, and adds that “the Steelers might want to have someone around if he struggles in camp”. Conner is actually currently sidelined with a hamstring issue.

“Pittsburgh let DeAngelo Williams leave in free agency”, he writes, “and Williams might still be a logical fit to return, given that he’s still available”. Barnwell also mentions former Titans, Jets, and Cardinals running back Chris Johnson, “who rebuilt his career in Arizona”, and who “also could be an option for close to the minimum”.

The Steelers already added one running back in free agency in Knile Davis, although he does not have impressive numbers either as a runner or a pass-catcher. But this far into the process, it would be hard to imagine that the team is still looking to add any prominent running backs into the mix, short of a wink-and-nod agreement with Williams to sign him in training camp, which I don’t believe is the case.

As for Johnson, he was limited to just four games last year with a groin injury that landed him on injured reserve in October. He recorded 98 rushing yards on 25 attempts without catching a pass, but the year before, in 11 games, he ran for 814 yards with 151 yards as a receiver.

For his career, over the course of nine years, Johnson has caught 302 passes for 2212 yards and nine touchdowns. In four seasons, Bell has 227 receptions for 2005 yards and five touchdowns.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Isn’t Andre Ellington available?

  • Ace

    Barnwell used to be one of my favs over at Grantland. I respect his work for sure, but a couple of his articles have left me scratching my head a bit, this one included. I just disagree with needing a pass catching back. They have the best in the league already. One reason I’m happy with their choice of Conner. I would rather have a do-it-all back who can step in and spot start when needed than a small gadget type who can’t stick his nose in the pile and bang when called upon. RB’s that can do it all aren’t that easy to come by. If Bell goes down to injury this team will have a lot more problems to deal with than an RB who isn’t a great threat out of the back field. Pretty nice when these type of articles are being written on our team, what’s next, an in depth look at the lack of a competent backup punter?

  • Ace

    Pretty sure he’s out of the league, or very close too it. Too many injuries, too small to be the every-down back Arians tried to make him (idiot). One of the reasons wrong with having a strictly pass catching back. What does he do when you aren’t throwing him the ball? Put him on the field, everyone knows the deal, if you try and get cute he will have to block, QB destroyed. The Dri Archer problem all over again.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I guess. I would have made Dri strictly a slot receiver, but it is what it is. I honestly don’t really care for Kniles Davis as our 3rd back. I mean as a kick returner, cool, but actually getting snaps, nah!

  • Ike Evans

    Not many guys i respect less then barnwell

  • francesco

    In the draft was the time to get one.
    Too late now.

  • Ace

    5’8 174lbs. Pretty small even for slot receiver standards. The one thing he had was speed, and he even failed at that. For comparison, Edleman is 5’10 198. Haley painted himself into a corner with that selection, doomed from the start. Davis is fine for KR duties and 5 snaps a game. Good enough for me I guess. He won’t make an impact on this team probably.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Dri didn’t get on the field enough to fail Imo, and when he did get in the slot be broke off two 40yd catches in preseason. I’m over that tho. Que Sera Sera.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    Don’t be silly. Big Ben is definitely capable of punting in an emergency situation. Especially if the situation calls for a pooch. Lol

  • Matt Manzo

    This is why I think Watson has a chance of sticking! He caught plenty of passes for decent yardage in college.

  • Jaybird

    If needing ” another ” pass catching back is a concern , then I think the Steelers are in pretty good shape. After all we do have the best pass catching RB in the league on already on the roster.

  • Ken Krampert

    Don’t sleep on Conners pass catching ability. Unless we have an injury, we are going Bell, Conner, Davis….in that order. No finesse here, or needed. Bell will provide the bulk of everything needed pass catching wise.

  • Melly

    he resigned w/ Ari. i believe they are gonna try and use him as a receiver?!

  • RickM

    It sounds like a “reach” of a criticism. A back-up RB, on a team loaded with good WR’s, may or may not be a good enough receiver? They should definitely stick with the 22-year-old Connor at #2 as opposed to adding the 34-year old Deangelo or Johnson.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Ian rap.

  • Is this guy on cloud 9 or something? I mean, Bell has the best hands of any RB in the league, and if we keep Williams, well, he’s no stranger to catching passes. Plus, we now have Conner as well, and with he and Ben practicing together as they surely will, I see no need to add another pass-catching RB. Bill Barnwell needs to get out of the barn more often and open his eyes to what’s actually happening with the Steelers. SMH

  • Michael Conrad

    Why should they this goes with my Mike Tomlin is not Bill Belichick. Tomlin will run Bell into the ground before he puts another running back on the field. MB will open up AB and Ben will throw to AB even if he is not open. Then Bell and MB and James. Then its time to punt. This taint the New England offense.

  • Jason Vancil

    He wouldn’t play enough to warrant the signing. Barring injury. And they already signed the guy they wanted in FA. Knile Davis will return kicks and be the #3 assuming Conner picks the O up early.

  • Conserv_58

    It just kills me to read NFL sports writers regurgitate the same lazy critiques of a player that every other sporsts writer writes. I refer to it as cut-n-paste journalism. When Barnwell said, “Conner gets mixed reviews for his receiving ability” all I see is lazy journalism. It’s lazy because it’s an empty statement. It lacks credibility. He provides no evidence to substantiate his comment. Instead, he proves that he has never sat down and gone through James’ game videos to form a educated opinion. The most egregious aspect of his empty headed rhetoric is he never took into consideration that any perceived deficiency in James’ receiving abilities can be coached up. Plus we’re talking about a player that is a coach’s dream.

    I suggest he visit this site to get an education by staff members that put in the time to do what Barnwell is clearly too lazy to do for himself.

  • Paddy

    I agree, they really don’t know what Conner will do and how he will hold up. He is not very good at pass catching

  • Paddy

    He feels they need a backup that can come out of the back field

  • Paddy

    Where exactly did he show you this ability?

  • Paddy

    Williams is done.

  • Paddy

    There’s no guarantee Davis make this team

  • Paddy

    I don’t know about Barnwell but others have said something similar

  • Conserv_58

    You’re spot on when you said Dri didn’t get on the field enough, but he did fail. He didn’t get on the field because he failed to prove to the coaching staff that he could play at this level. Therefore, every person who said they hated the pick of Dri Archer were fully justified in their condemnation of it.

  • Conserv_58

    That was the whole point of my clearly stated comment. Barnwell was regurgitating what he read and heard what other sports writers have said about Conners’ receiving ability.

  • Jason Vancil

    Sure, nothing is certain, but I just don’t see any interest in adding a RB from the team. They added in FA and the draft.

  • ND_Steel

    No worries, barring injuries, he shouldn’t get any more than Touissant did last year. And if it came to that, I would hope we’d go after D Williams.

  • Ken Krampert

    21 catches for 307 yds and 4 tds last year. In case you were living under a rock, he played for Pitt.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    True , I guess, but if they used him like they used him in preseason he would have produced. Past is the past tho. Water under the bridge.

  • Conserv_58

    I think he knows that his tank is near empty. He said more than once that he didn’t want to have carry a full time load if he didn’t have to. Given his age D Will is content to play a back up role to Le’Veon. He does a great job in that role. He knows that he’s at the age when the brain likes to write checks the body is incapable of cashing.

  • Paddy

    He is not on team

  • jsteeler

    Ellington has signed a 1 year deal and will be switched to WR. Ellington is too small and has sustained too many injuries running between the tackles. The Clemson product has Great hands but will battle J.J. Nelson, John brown and his Clemson Team mate Jaron Brown for making the team .Fitz ain’t going no where.


    Nah. I don’t see this as a big need.

  • Asmitty56

    Not really. They could use a speed back though, if he could catch too then that would be perfect. Someone similar to Tyreek Hill would be ideal, but wouldn’t bother otherwise.

  • LucasY59

    he re-signed with the Cardinals

  • LucasY59

    exactly the team has added to the RB group already this offseason, only way they add more is if someone gets injured or a player becomes available that isnt available right now (which will happen with cuts) but IF they need to add someone, bringing back D-Lo might work best since he knows the O and has had success in it

  • J Jones

    Use DHB like Green Bay used Ty Montgomery

  • BaconLovingInfidel

    IF DHB makes the 53 after a vicious WR competition.

  • BaconLovingInfidel

    At best, he’ll be the second best WR named Ellington after his cousin Bruce in San Fran.