We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. 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 2021 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 starters or primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only five of them, those being JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, Zach Banner, Tyson Alualu, and Jordan Berry. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Robert Spillane and J.C. Hassenauer, while signing Ray-Ray McCloud to a non-tender deal.
The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Derek Watt, and Eric Ebron were restructured, while those of Steven Nelson and Vince Williams were terminated, the latter being re-signed. Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired.
Of note, the Steelers have added five players as unrestricted or street agents from outside of the organization, including three offensive linemen in Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, and former Steeler B.J. Finney. The group also includes linebacker Miles Killebrew and running back Kalen Ballage.
Position: Running Back
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 1
Benny Snell: For the time being, Snell is the team’s leading runner after averaging 3.3 yards per carry last season, rushing for 368 yards on 111 attempts. He did score four touchdowns, so at least there’s that, but there’s no way he enters the season as their intended leading runner.
Jaylen Samuels: Though now the longest-tenured running back on the roster, Samuels will likely be the odd man out this year unless they continue to keep four running backs, and possibly even if they do. There simply isn’t anything that he does that can’t be replaced.
Anthony McFarland: A rookie fourth-round pick a year ago, McFarland’s career got off to a choppy start last year. He looked very much wet behind the ears, but he has the opportunity to grow, and it helps having his college coach as his new offensive coordinator.
Derek Watt: Signed last seasons as a free agent, the fullback did very little last year and also battled injuries quite a bit. Many thought Pittsburgh might cut him, but he’s still here. Will he get work this time?
Trey Edmunds: The eldest Edmunds brother has been kicking around for years now, usually finding a way to jump from the practice squad to the 53-man roster when injuries show up. His fortune might run out this year.
Kalen Ballage: Signed as a cheap free agent earlier this offseason, Ballage’s defining feature seems to be his short-yardage work, which has grown to be an area of concern for the Steelers, and which gives him a greater than average chance of making the roster.
James Conner: The former Pro Bowler officially signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals earlier this month worth under $2 million. According to reports, the Steelers had no interest in bringing him back. When healthy, he is a very capable player, but it’s clear he did not have a robust market.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
I would bet quite a bit of money that the Steelers will draft a running back this year (after all, they have done so every year for the past four years), and that it will probably be within the first three rounds. Pittsburgh is as much in play as anybody for one of the top backs in the draft, with Najee Harris perhaps the favorite, depending on the day.