Jonathan Dwyer may be asked to become a true workhorse running back in 2013. The question on the minds of Steelers fans and the organization alike is "Can he be?"
Here we decide.
Dwyer has been a committee and "platoon"-style back since being taken in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Georgia Tech.
At 5'11" and 230 pounds, Dwyer is a bruiser who can run inside and lower his pads into contact. If Jerome Bettis was a bus, Dwyer at least seems like a Ford F350 utility van.
It's hard not to take notice of his build. Dwyer is powerful and relatively agile, keeping a low center of gravity at important times and flashing athletic feet.
He's one of the main reasons the Steelers got rid of Rashard Mendenhall—or at least one would hope.
Who will lead the Steelers in rushing in 2013
Otherwise, Pittsburgh has knowingly left itself fairly vulnerable at running back. No one wants to be vulnerable at running back, especially in the AFC North.
That is, unless there are imminent plans to draft Alabama RB Eddie Lacy at pick 17 in the 2013 NFL draft.
If the Steelers draft Lacy, Dwyer will carry a slim-to-zero load in 2013. He will play out the one-year, low-tender contract he signed following the 2012 season and hit the open market in 2014 claiming the offensive rookie of the year stole his thunder and he never had a chance.
The Matt Flynn excuse.
But Eddie Lacy is a draft prospect who could go to any team while Jonathan Dwyer is signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The current roster in Pittsburgh at the running back position is Issac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch. The Steelers have worked out Beanie Wells, who has been a bust in Arizona.
The Arizona Cardinals have recently shown a propensity for vulturing on Pittsburgh's scraps, but this was a reverse-move in working out Wells. In more traditional fashion, former Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall got shipped to the desert to reunite with former Steelers and Colts OC Bruce Arians.
Hence, the opening in Pittsburgh at starting running back, one the team invited Ahmad Bradshaw to try out for, too. A position that Mendenhall rushed for 1273 yards and 13 touchdowns playing in 2010.
Jonathan Dwyer rushed for 623 yards in 2012 and racked up as many fumbles (two) as he did touchdowns despite a bit of a hot start once given a heavy workload.
(Statistics were compiled for graphics below using Pro Football Focus data as inputs.)
Dwyer's not a game-changer and has never proven himself exceptionally durable.
He's intriguing because he does often show good feet leading to and through the line of scrimmage. He's big and powerful and just has an in-game quickness. He doesn't scare anybody, though. Nobody is scared of Jonathan Dwyer. Not coming into 2013.
The fact is, Dwyer isn't elusive. He has not shown yet that he can elude defenders and make positive offensive plays. It's the best way to say it. The stats back it up. Dwyer takes what the defense gives him—which is what he is asked to do. Dwyer's yards after contact are decent on paper, but one look at the film shows what Steelers fans likely know all too well.
Dwyer is really good at plodding forward and adding an extra 2.5 yards as he's being tackled. He rarely makes anyone miss a tackle.
With injuries sidelining every member of the Steelers running back committee in 2012 during various times, it's hard to gauge whether the pieces currently in place represent a group capable of bringing an AFC North champion run and complementing Ben Roethlisberger's vertical offense.
This will be a committee. The answer to the question, "Can Jonathan Dwyer Handle the Workload for Steelers in 2013?" is no.
He won't be asked to. When watching back film and looking at advanced scouting statistics, it is easy to see that if healthy, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman can headline a serviceable tandem with Baron Batch acting in third-down duty for pass protection purposes.
Maybe he thinks Eddie Lacy will be gone at pick 17. Maybe he thinks there's no way the group he has in place can stay healthy.
Or maybe he realizes that even if it does, the organization would be foolish not to cultivate depth at a position of such great need that involves so many question marks.