Few defenders will be fast enough to stop Chris Rainey, but he has to get past them first
The Pittsburgh Steelers showed signs of how their offense may be changing with Todd Haley as coordinator when they picked up hybrid running back/wide receiver Chris Rainey in the fifth round of the draft.
Rainey is a style of player that hasn't been very common on the Steelers roster in recent years. He's extremely fast, undersized and has a very specific role despite his versatility. Rainey can't pass block—he's too small—and he can't be the smash-mouth, up-the-middle kind of back the Steelers have long been known for fielding.
But that doesn't mean he lacks usefulness. In fact, this intriguing player may have quite a career for himself in black and gold, especially with Haley calling the plays.
The Steelers need to be a bit more creative with their running back situation as well as their screen game. Things had become predictable on offense with Bruce Arians calling the plays, and there's little about Haley that can be considered predictable or routine.
On top of that, Pittsburgh is very likely to be without the services of their No. 1 back, Rashard Mendenhall, for up to the entire season. While Isaac Redman and company certainly have the skills to effectively run the ball, most of the backs on the roster have a similar profile, and none can be considered true speed threats.
Rainey is fast—in fact, he may even be faster than wide receiver Mike Wallace—which is an exciting thing for Steelers football. If Rainey can get into the open field, there's no one to catch him, making him a scoring threat every time he gets a few steps on the defense.
Now, with his small size, one may think that getting that separation in the first place might be the most difficult thing. It is, yes, but now that the Steelers have done the work to improve their offensive line by drafting David DeCastro and Mike Adams in Rounds 1 and 2, Rainey certainly has a better chance to succeed, as do all of the Steelers' backs.
I'm not suggesting that Rainey would be an every-down player for Pittsburgh, simply because his role won't dictate such a use, but he's certainly in possession of the tools to be a game-changer regardless.
Last year at Florida, Rainey had 171 carries for 861 yards with two touchdowns. He averaged five yards per carry and had average carries for 7.8 yards, 6.5 yards and 7.2 yards in the three previous years. He also caught 31 passes for 381 yards and two scores (averaging 12.3 yards per reception) and returned 17 punts for 106 yards and a score.
Rainey will likely be used on first and second downs to blindside opposing defenses as well as a way to revitalize the screen game. Likely gone are the slow-developing screens of the Arians era; this will be a faster game for the Steelers offense, and Rainey will be a huge key in that change.
Haley had a Rainey-style player when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs, Dexter McCluster. Expect Rainey to be used in exactly the same way, as a multi-position player who will likely end up also returning punts.
If Rainey takes hold, it could be quite the different Steelers offense than what we've been used to seeing; in fact, that's likely why the team drafted him. Evolution is key in the NFL, even for teams that perennially put up winning records like Pittsburgh, and Rainey's a sign of that evolutionary process.