We started this series with less than two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed four of them, those being Le’Veon Bell, Justin Hunter, Stevan Ridley, and Daniel McCullers. The only unrestricted free agent to sign elsewhere has been Chris Hubbard. They resigned nine exclusive rights or restricted free agents, from Fitzgerald Toussaint and Mike Hilton to Chris Boswell and Roosevelt Nix.
Also of note were the released of William Gay, Mike Mitchell, and Robert Golden, the three most veteran players in the secondary. The team has signed three outside free agents in Jon Bostic, Morgan Burnett, and Nat Berhe. Now we examine how these moves and their pre-draft hints shape their future based on position since the offseason has begun.
Position: Running Back
Total Positional Figure: 4
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 0
Le’Veon Bell: Retained on the franchise tag, the question remains what Le’Veon Bell’s long-term future will hold. It seems unlikely that the Steelers will work out a long-term deal with him this year, which means they could start planning for 2019 without him.
James Conner: While not the focal point, James Conner would factor into life without Bell, but the truth is he probably won’t get many chances to audition for it, at least during the regular season, and he is currently rehabbing a torn MCL. He should get plenty of offseason and preseason work though.
Stevan Ridley: It took them a while but the Steelers finally re-signed Stevan Ridley, who was the top backup after Conner was injured. The veteran running back was picked up following said injury and showed well in the season finale with Bell resting.
Fitzgerald Toussaint: Not exactly a fan favorite, Fitzgerald Toussaint is a jack-of-all-trades sort at running back who holds value on special teams. While the focus tends to be on kick returns, it should be pointed out that he also plays on both the kick and punt coverage units. He recorded four tackles last season.
James Summers: James Summers was brought in for a tryout by the Steelers after Conner was injured last season, though he was not signed. A bigger-bodied back, he originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals last year as a converted quarterback, also playing wide receiver. He recorded 1431 yards from scrimmage with 16 touchdowns at East Carolina.
Players Deleted: N/A
Notes And Draft Outlook: Well, this really comes down to three things: how the Steelers project the Bell negotiations to go, who will be available for them to draft, and how essential they view early rookie contributions at the top of the draft.
Depending on how these factors are sorted, Derrius Guice could end up in Pittsburgh. So could a second- or third-round back like Kerryon Johnson or Sony Michel or Nick Chubb, or any number of other players. Even if they don’t take one high, there is I think a very good chance a back is added at some point in the draft to compete at the bottom of the roster.