Jonathan Dwyer racked up only 623 Rushing Yards over the course of the 2012 season. Not surprisingly, Dwyer’s team leading total was the lowest for a Steeler leading rusher during a regular season since the 1991 campaign! (Merril Hoge “Factor Backed” it that year to the tune of 165 Carries, 610 Yards, and 2 TD’s)
I understand that to classify Pittsburgh’s Running Game last year as downright “dreadful” might not be kindest thing to say. But give me another adjective to describe how ineffective the Steelers were at running the football with consistency in 2012?
It was bad enough that the team finished 26th overall in Total Rushing Yards and 28th in overall Yards per Carrty (3.7) amongst the League’s 32 teams. But the fact that no player, not even a Running Back, on the roster finished with more than 2 Rushing TD’s over the course of the year was downright ridiculous. I mean, I am willing to admit that the numbers of injuries across the Steelers’ Offensive Line did not help the team establish the run with any sort of consistency in 2012. Yet it was never like Pittsburgh had themselves a “Game-Breaker” and “Every-Down Back” on their roster to turn to and save the day when the team needed them either.
From what we learned last year, Dwyer and Isaac Redman have proved that they are at their best when they used in backup/bruiser capacities, while Baron Batch has been little more than a Special Teamer during his two year stay with the club. Now that Rashard Mendenhall is likely on his way out of town as a Free Agent, this team lacks a true #1 rushing threat who can be scheme-effective as the team moves towards a Zone-blocking based ground attack.
Unfortunately for Boss Todd’s Offense, the franchise has a multitude of other areas to address through the Draft process. Thus, Running Back could take a back seat to others like Outside Linebacker, Safety, Inside Linebacker, and Wide Receiver on Day 1 and possibly even Day 2 of the Draft. Thankfully for G.M. Kevin Colbert and the rest of the Steelers’ brass though, Pittsburgh might be able to mine some mid to late Round Zone-scheme “gems” at the Running Back position in the 2013 Draft.
With this in mind, I have thought of a few Running Backs who might be on Pittsburgh’s radars later on in the Draft process, and could potentially be terrific value picks if they slip to Day 3 of Draft Weekend:
Some might scoff at Jawan Jamison’s lack of height. To those that do, I can only remind them of other smaller (below 5’9”) Backs who have found success in the N.F.L.. Then I mention another short Back from Rutgers who has made multiple Pro Bowls during his career with the Ravens. You might know him Steelers fans, his name is Ray Rice.
Although Jamison can be considered “short” at 5’8”, he is definitely not “small.” At 200 lbs., the Rutgers Back has more than enough bulk to shoulder and sustain big hits. If Jamison only weighed 175-180 lbs. at his height, then I would be worried about his durability at the professional level. Yet we have seen “short” Backs like Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew, who are built similar to Jamison, emerge as some of the best at their position over the last half decade. In fact, Jamison’s height is actually more of an advantage to him, as he can hide behind his Offensive Line and create distress amongst the opposition.
Although he is not a “burner” in terms of his pure speed, Jamison has a nice deal of shiftiness and quickness to his game to break a big run every once and a while, and he can also execute a pretty lethal spin-move as evidenced here. In addition, Jamison also does not tip-toe around the line of scrimmage as often as other players. More often than not, Jawan will pick the assigned hole and make the appropriate cut for the necessary gain on a play instead of taking a loss.
As a Redshirt Sophomore, Jamison does not have a large amount of “tread” on his tires, but he was nevertheless a productive player for the Scarlet Knights and one of the Big East’s most consistent Backs. During his first year, Jawan rushed for 897 Yards on 231 Carries, then improved last year to the tune of 1,075 Yards on only 255 Carries.
In the passing game, Jamison can hold his own in terms of him being a receiver, and can be an effective weapon on screen passes (28 Catches for 323 Yards and 2 TD’s in 2012). From what I have watched of his pass-blocking technique, Jamison at least makes an effort to get after the blitzing Defenders despite their size advantage, and has potential to develop his game in said area.
I believe that once The Combine comes around and offseason workouts begin that Jamison’s stock will inevitably rise, and some team has to eventually look past his “lack of size.” Nevertheless, we have seen Backs like Rice and Jones-Drew slip in the Draft due to height and weight concerns in recent memory. Thus, if Jamison is around at the beginning of Day 3, then I am all for the Steelers trading up to acquire him if they have not selected a Running Back by that point in the Draft.
Graham is a player who performed very well as a Zone-scheme runner in college, and might be an absolute bargain for the Steelers if he drops into the middle of Day 3. After two effective Freshman and Sophomore years at Pitt (209 Carries, 1,271 Yards, 12 TD’s Rushing combined), Graham appeared poised to have a fantastic Junior year and go professional like most talented college football Running Backs have done over the years to avoid a costly injury. Unfortunately, Graham tore his ACL near the end of the 2011 season after he had racked up 958 Yards Rushing, 9 Rush TD’s, and 30 Catches for 200 Yards. With his experience, field-vision, and effectiveness in college up to his Junior campaign, Ray would probably have been taken by a Zone-scheme team like Washington had he declared last April.
In terms of his skill-set, Graham reminds me of former Pitt Backs and productive Zone runners “Shady” McCoy and Dion Lewis in body type and running style. All three are a bit on the skinnier side (Graham: 5’9″ 195 lbs., McCoy: 5’11” 208 lbs., Lewis: 5’8″ 195 lbs.), but it did not stop them from possessing solid field-vision, good patience, and a great amount of shiftiness and cut-back ability (especially McCoy), to be solid Zone-scheme Backs in college, and in the N.F.L. in McCoy’s case.
Graham’s ability to create and wait for a big play before he hits the hole sometimes is a bit of a “double-edged sword” for the Pitt Back. Like a certain Running Back on Pittsburgh’s roster right now, Graham’s indecisiveness and tip-toeing at the line of scrimmage as he has looked for a big-play sometimes has led to him being stopped for no gain or losses on runs where a 2 to 4 yard pickup would have sufficed had he hit the necessary hole or made the necessary cut. It is difficult for any N.F.L. Offense to play “behind the sticks,” and consistent 2nd & 7’s are much better than consistent 2nd & 10’s or 2nd & 10+’s, especially for a sputtering unit like the Steelers’. Similarities to Mendenhall aside, Graham is definitely a 3-Down weapon and proved to be a viable pass-catcher with the Panthers. Over his final three years with the Panthers, Graham caught 90 passes for 753 Yards and 4 TD’s, and has upside to be a real weapon as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
Although Graham returned to shine at times in 2012 after his injury, he might see his stock slip this April due to concerns over his once injured right knee. What has sold me on Graham however and his potential was his performance against Notre Dame’s stout Run Defense (24 Carries for 172 Yards and 1 TD) last year, his overall upside, and the hope that he will be closer to “normal” two years after his ACL tear. Overall though, I believe that Graham is arguably the most translatable Zone-scheme runner who might be available on Day 3. Thus, as long as the Steelers believe that his knee is not an issue, I would be intrigued and excited if they indeed selected the Pitt Running Back to help their anemic running game.