A year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. What jobs could be up for grabs for Mike Tomlin’s team this summer?
It was a rollercoaster 2018 for one of the most consistent franchises in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers won just one in its first four outings, ripped off six straight wins and then dropped four of their final six contests. It added up to a 9-6-1 record and Mike Tomlin’s team missed the playoffs for the first time since finishing 8-8 in ‘13.
As for this offseason, two of the league’s best players at their respective positions left the Steel City in different ways. Prolific wide receiver Antonio Brown was dealt to the Oakland Raiders for a third- and fifth-round draft choice. Productive running back Le’Veon Bell, who sat out all of last season, became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the New York Jets.
That means some changes when it comes to the Steelers’ roster. And as usual, there are some things to settle when it comes to Tomlin’s depth chart. So what positions bear watching this summer when the team heads to Latrobe?
5. Backup running back
Jaylen Samuels vs. Benny Snell Jr.
Of course, there was no Le’Veon Bell a season ago. After receiving the franchise tag from the organization for a second straight year, the talented performer opted to skip football this past year. Now he’s a member of the Green and White and it will be interesting to see how he fares after a season away from the field.
As for the Steelers, they appear to an answer in James Conner. A third-round pick in 2017, saw limited action a rookie while Bell was busy touching the ball a combined 408 times that season. That changed a year ago when the former University of Pittsburgh standout rolled up 1,470 yards from scrimmage and 13 scores but missed three games. The two-year pro expects another heavy workload this fall, but…
“I’ll have a similar role. I’m healthy, first and foremost; I’m 100 percent healthy now…” explained Conner recently on NFL Network (via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler). But we have talent in that room. We have Jaylen Samuels, who’s a tremendous receiver, a talented runner. We have Benny Snell. We know the work that he did at Kentucky. He’s a hard-bodied runner, so all those guys will get touches…”
Snell was a fourth-round pick in April. Meanwhile, Samuels mentioned to Fowler the utilization of “little two-back sets” this season. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be something special put into the offense. They will have us start off in the backfield or I can start out wide or motion out.”
All told, don’t be surprised if Samuels winds up with more touches than Snell, while the rookie actually logs the second-most rushing attempts on the team behind Conner.