Four different running backs have led the Pittsburgh Steelers in rushing during a game this season: Baron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. Precisely one of them—Batch, a primarily special-teams player—has played in all eight of the Steelers’ games.
The other three have all missed all or parts of games due to injury but will unfortunately be without the benefit of a bye week to get healthy; Pittsburgh had a bye in Week 4.
Dwyer has played five games while Redman’s been involved in six and Mendenhall saw action in two. Next Sunday will mark a month since Mendenhall suffered an Achilles injury against the Tennessee Titans. Despite sitting out Week 9’s game against the New York Giants, he was a limited participant in Steelers practice prior to Sunday.
As Pittsburgh’s primary runner, that’s an encouraging sign. However, Mendenhall has been dealing with injuries all season: He began the year sitting out games as he worked his way back from a torn ACL suffered last year. When he does get in the game, he’s not going to be the featured back for Pittsburgh, as evidenced by the Steelers’ Week 5 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mendenhall played and received 13 carries, but Isaac Redman saw the same amount of work in the handoffs department. Mendenhall should be owned in fantasy leagues because he is the Steelers’ preferred rusher. Still, depending on him for at least the next month would be unwise.
Pittsburgh is not going to rush him back into a full workload.
Despite receiving nine carries to Redman’s 11, Dwyer was the Steelers’ leading rusher in their season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos. He was again the leading rusher—although Redman scored a touchdown—in Week 2, with the same amount of carries (12) as Redman.
The pattern of two rushers splitting carries fairly evenly continued until Redman and Mendenhall missed the Steelers’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals, leaving Dwyer, Batch and Chris Rainey to get touches. Dwyer assumed control of the starter’s duties, carrying the ball 17 times for 122 yards, and followed that up with 17 for 107 the following week against the Washington Redskins.
Then he got hurt again.
Redman came in and produced the best fantasy day for any Steelers running back all season against the Giants: 26 rushes, 147 yards and a touchdown in addition to two catches for four yards.
Going forward, the Steelers’ running back situation is a headache to fantasy owners, but there does appear to be some logic in their backfield rotation. For starters, it seems as though they won’t hand the ball to Batch on a regular basis if they don’t have to. He should be left off of fantasy rosters.
The team is cognizant of each of the other rushers’ injury woes, so it will likely split carries among the healthy backs on a week-to-week basis in an effort to keep them all around as the season creeps toward the playoffs.
Of course, they are not all available to the Steelers right now.
If just one of Mendenhall, Dwyer or Redman is healthy during a given week, he’s worth a look as a solid fantasy start with the ability to be spectacular depending on the matchup. A solo back for the Steelers could receive somewhere between 17 and 26 carries based on how the workload has been distributed already.
However, if two (or all three) of these guys are good to go for Pittsburgh in one week, they are all strong candidates to find themselves on fantasy benches—especially as the bye weeks draw to a close. Fantasy owners will soon be presented with more RB options on a weekly basis.
The Steelers running backs, as part of a committee, would be more likely to max out at 13 to 15 carries apiece, which would limit their individual fantasy upside.
Follow Jamal on Twitter: Follow @StatManJ.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!