Coming in to the 2020 draft, I thought there were a couple of possible ways the Steelers could address their running game.
1.) They could trade for a proven back like Leonard Fournette.
2.)They could draft a starting capable back like J.K. Dobbins.
3.)They could draft a player that could be used in a rotation with Conner to lessen the workload of an oft injured player.
It looks like the Steelers went with plan C. The running back by committee approach can work if it’s embraced.
The 2019 Super Bowl winning Kansas City Chiefs ran for roughly 1,600 yards. They didn’t have a single player rush for over 500 yards.
The 2018 Super Bowl winning Patriots rushed for about 2,000 yards. Four players had over 300 yards from scrimmage from the running back position, including two players who flirted with 1,000 yards.
The Super Bowl Champion Eagles rushed for over 2,100 yards. They spread that load among five running backs.
Hell, the 49ers were able to have a ton of success this year with lesser known backs leading the way.
Mike Tomlin, meanwhile, has liked to have one feature back. Willy Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Le’Veon Bell, and James Conner have all fit that mold.
The Steelers didn’t draft a starting caliber running back in the 2020 draft. They did, though, draft a player that they think can be a solid complimentary piece in Anthony McFarland. The question is whether or not Mike Tomlin will use him like that.
History would indicate that he won’t.
James Conner is oft injured. When he’s healthy, he’s productive. The best way to keep him healthy is to lessen his load.
Thanks to Ben Roethlisberger, the offense figures to be more productive in 2020 with teams unable to stack the box. Given that setup, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that Benny Snell can be an average short yardage back should the Steelers decide to use him that way.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that McFarland can add a change of pace if the Steelers would allow him to do so.
I hope that Mike Tomlin goes with a running back rotation in some capacity. It could help ensure that James Conner has more to give at the end of the year. It’s worked for other teams.
Now it’s time for Mike Tomlin to get with the times and let that school of thought work here in Pittsburgh.