Running Back Could Be a 2014 NFL Draft Need

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

268 is not a small number.

That is how many touches Le’Veon Bell has received during the first 12 games of his NFL career.

To his credit, Bell has emerged as a reliable and complimentary weapon for Ben Roethlisberger in recent weeks, but 268 touches is a large amount. Bell already ranks 13th in the league in total rushing attempts, 5th in total rushing attempts per game and is responsible for over 61% of the team’s rushing attempts in spite of the fact that he missed the first three games of his rookie campaign.

Although Bell has been the recipient of plenty of touches this fall, Pittsburgh might have to find him some help during the offseason since Felix Jones, Jonathan Dwyer and the injured LaRod Stephens-Howling are all set to become unrestricted free agents (UFAs) this spring.

Granted, the Steelers could very well ink one of these backs during the offseason for depth purposes. Yet with so many other impending UFAs set to hit the open market (Jason Worilds, Jerricho Cotchery, Ziggy Hood, Emmanuel Sanders, etc.),the team might have to say goodbye to what little depth they have at the position.

Make no mistake, I am not advocating that the Steelers need to find a running back as early as they did when they selected Bell with the 48th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. In fact, it would be extremely foolish for the team’s brass to ignore other more important needs (cornerback, wide receiver, tight end, left tackle, etc.) so they could take a running back on the first two days of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Nevertheless, the need for a specialty running back or even two will exist if Jones, Dwyer, Stephens-Howling or some combination of the three depart this spring. Of course, who Pittsburgh’s brass target will be according to who does not return to the team in 2014.

If they are looking for someone to help out with the kickoff and punt return chores and can provide some speed out of the backfield like Jones or Stephens-Howling, then someone like the shifty DeAnthony Thomas of Oregon could be a tremendous value pickup if he slides down the draft board due to his size (5’9″ 170 lbs.) or questions about his durability.

In the event Dwyer leaves, Pittsburgh could fill their need for a short-yardage bruiser who can chip in as a wedge-buster on special teams with a player like Jerome Smith of Syracuse (5’11″ 226 lbs.) or Storm Johnson of Central Florida (6′ 215 lbs.).

Finally, the team could take a character gamble on a player like Isaiah Crowell if they find him to be a solid fit in their offensive system. After a successful freshman campaign at the University of Georgia (850 rushing yards and five touchdowns), Crowell was dismissed from the team after multiple weapons charges in 2012. The running back has tallied 1,964 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns at Alabama State over the last two seasons, and he could be worth a late-round look for a team like the Steelers.

I do not disagree with the notion that Pittsburgh’s front office must be on the lookout to upgrade a number of other positional units before they can even think about doing something about their situation at running back.

More pressing needs aside, this team could stand to use more depth at that position if they are unable to afford or re-sign their current crop of backups. Moreover, it would not hurt the team to have someone to share a bigger portion of the offensive touches load with Bell at the position. Even though he will be only 22 years old next year, the former Michigan State Spartan has logged 682 touches during his last 26 games (college and pro). Thus, keeping their most important player at the position healthy as well as fresh will be a high priority.

Adding depth is never a bad thing in the NFL, and it would not surprise me to see the Steelers target a running back late in the draft or as a priority UDFA to compete for a roster spot and touches next year.

 

 

 

 

Stats & Contract Info. Provided By: ESPN.comSteelers.com, Alabama State, Central Florida, Oregon, Syracuse, Spotrac, and Pro Football Reference

 

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Topics: 2014 NFL Draft, Felix Jones, Jonathan Dwyer, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

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  • Redd Mahoney

    I agree with you that the Steelers need to look at lessening Bell’s
    workload in the future. Even though we never really got a chance to see
    him play, do you see the Steelers bringing back Stephens Howling at all?

    • Dom DiTolla

      Depends how much cap space they have when it comes to LSH. Could be cheaper to find a rookie or UDFA to fill speed & special teams back role.

      In my opinion, I’d like to see them bring Dwyer back of any of their impending UFAs at the position. Short yardage guy with underrated hands and can contribute on special teams.

      Not to take anything away from Bell or his toughness, but his 6’1″ frame will expose him to a lot more hits, and they need to be careful with how they use him early in his career. Hate to see them run him till the wheels fall off like they did with Willie Parker.

      • Redd Mahoney

        Do you think the Steelers would consider bringing back Chris Rainey? I mean he wasn’t convicted of anything and another team took a chance on him. He has what the Steelers need….speed.

        • Dom DiTolla

          Is that really a serious question?

          Really? Rainey failed to live up to the behavioral portions of his contract. For a Steelers fan I figured you of all people would’ve known that. Plus, it’s kind of hard for the Steelers’ brass to sign Rainey since he is on IR and a member of the Indianapolis Colts.

          • Redd Mahoney

            I know the circumstances that led to Rainey’s release, I was just suggesting that since the Colts took a shot at him that maybe it was a sign that he had overcome his issues. Since the Steelers held on to Alameda Ta’amu( and he led the cops on a high speed chase) before releasing him, I figured maybe they’d be open to bringing Rainey back, It was just a thought. I didn’t know that he was on IR though.

          • Dominic Di Tolla

            Well maybe you should do more research next time. But I thought you had all the answers? You know, since you have to chime in on everything and act like you have them all.

          • Dom DiTolla

            Well maybe you should do more research next time. But I thought you had
            all the answers? You know, since you have to chime in on everything and
            act like you have them all. You’re the ‘better’ Steelers fan, right?

  • Pingback: Awesome Articles From Awesome Steelers Blogs December 27, 2013 « Pittsburgh Steel Foundry - The Ultimate Pittsburgh Steelers Blog

  • Jeff Johnson

    The only offensive positions the steelers need to draft in 2014 in a Tackle like usual and a WR. The rest should be defense. S, CB’s, NT, and LB maybe

    • Dom DiTolla

      In addition to finding another running back (late on Day 3 of course as I mentioned), this offense needs a tight end to pair with (and eventually replace Heath Miller). Haley’s infatuation with Spaeth, Palmer and Paulson needs to stop, and he needs to find a tight end who can threaten the opposition in the passing game.

      I do agree that the defense needs a massive makeover however.

  • robert evans

    all they have to do is look one hour south and take WVU running back Charles Sims. A smaller , faster version of Bell. You can watch him in the senior bowl next month.

    • Dom DiTolla

      I’ve watched Sims, more at Houston than WVU, but from what I’ve seen there is no way he lasts until Day 3 with the way he can pound the ball and catch it. Like to have him on the roster, but the Steelers only have two picks combined on the first two days.

      Too many needs to fill to take another running back in the second round.

  • bk

    Need to spend some late round picks on this. Need a change of pace guy… Kenyon Barner comes to mind, but he will go too high…

    • Dom DiTolla

      Too bad Kenjon Barner plays for the Carolina Panthers. To be fair, I did discuss him as a potential prospect leading up to last year’s draft.

  • Mike Clingan

    how about james wilder jr at fla state i think he mite be a good fit