Steelers' Best Options to Revive Running Game Through 2013 NFL Draft
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Pittsburgh is in desperate need of a feature back next season, and it is beginning to look like the only way they can do that is through the draft.
Sure, the Steelers have supposedly shown interest in free-agent running backs like Ahmad Bradshaw, but what the Steelers really need is a young back they can mold into the next Willie Parker (expecting anyone to be the next Jerome Bettis is a bit too lofty of a goal).
The Steelers’ ground game in 2012 was depressing. Jonathon Dwyer led the team with 623 yards, followed by Isaac Redman with 410 yards and Rashard Mendenhall with 182 yards. No Steelers running back scored more than two touchdowns.
Guess what the Steelers’ two longest rushes of 2012 were. You probably could have guessed a 34-yard breakout by Dwyer. No. 2: Byron Leftwich’s 31-yard run into the end zone in Pittsburgh’s first clash against the Baltimore Ravens.
When Leftwich has a longer run under his belt than any Steelers running back other than Dwyer, you know it is time for an overhaul.
Going into 2013, the only backs on Pittsburgh’s roster are Dwyer, Redman and Baron Batch. Mendenhall is now an Arizona Cardinal and the Steelers cut rookie Chris Rainey after he was arrested on charges of domestic violence.
The 2013 draft class does not contain any sure bets like Trent Richardson, but just about any back in the pool could potentially boost the Steelers’ pitiful rushing attack. At this point, it would be tough for them to make it any worse.
1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
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The Steelers have the 17th-overall pick in the draft. They probably will not use it on a running back, but if they do, it would be on Eddie Lacy.
The man has winning experience, being a part of two national championship teams with the Crimson Tide. During his three years at Alabama, he ran for 2,402 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns.
Lacy is 5’10” and 220 pounds with the ability to either run over defenses or smoothly cut through them.
The big concern with him is injuries. He has had problems with the MCL on his left knee and right ankle.
Lacy is the type of back who could immediately make an impact for the Steelers. Anyone playing behind Pittsburgh’s offensive line has to thrive on creativity and strength (just ask Ben Roethlisberger), and Lacy can provide them with both.
Chances are Lacy will not be available in the second round. If the Steelers get lucky enough to have him on the board when it comes time for that second pick, they would be foolish not to get him into black and gold.
2. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
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The ACC may be known more for its basketball than football, but it still has plenty of pro-level talent. Just look at Giovani Bernard, who has been tearing up ACC defenses for two seasons now.
The 5’10”, 205-pound Bernard is known for being explosive and elusive, though he is slightly undersized.
After missing the 2010 season with a torn ACL, Bernard ran for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011. He cemented himself as an ACC force in 2012 by tallying 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Bernard is also a talented receiver, racking up 852 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns at UNC. Big Ben would appreciate a back he can count on as a final option if none of his receivers can get open.
Considering how thin Pittsburgh’s receiving corps will be in 2012, the Steelers could use a guy like Bernard in the backfield to take some pressure off Roethlisberger.
3. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
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The Steelers do not necessarily need more power backs, but Marcus Lattimore has the talent to usurp Dwyer and Redman on the depth chart.
As a freshman with the Gamecocks, Lattimore earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors by running for 1,197 yards with 17 touchdowns. His sophomore year was cut short by torn ligaments in his left knee.
He did not look quite the same during his big comeback in 2012, rushing for only 662 yards and 11 touchdowns.
If that surgically repaired knee of his holds up, Lattimore could still be the answer to Pittsburgh’s backfield woes. If there is one thing the Steelers value most in a running back, it is a willingness to be a workhorse.
Lattimore is an excellent pass-blocker, a solid (if not spectacular) runner and is considered a player of admirable character and work ethic.
The Steelers love guys like him and might try to take a chance on him early in the draft.
4. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
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If the Steelers are looking for pure scoring potential, Joseph Randle might be their man. If nothing else, the 6’1”, 192-pound former Cowboy knows how to find the end zone.
Randle ended his career at Oklahoma State with 2,633 yards and 38 touchdowns. For a guy who is not great at earning yards after contact, he sure can rack up touchdowns pretty quickly.
He could give the Steelers the explosive burst that Dwyer and Redman lack. Stockpiling power backs can only get them so far; eventually Pittsburgh must acknowledge its need for speed.
Of course, there is a chance Randle’s numbers are more a product of Oklahoma State’s offensive system than his own dominance. The fact that is in question means there is no guarantee his game is conducive to the NFL.
The Steelers may still be willing to see if Randle has what it takes to replace Rashard Mendenhall’s quickness and uncanny ability to evade tackles. No matter what, his attitude cannot be any worse than Mendenhall’s.
5. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
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Pittsburgh usually shies away from big names, but in this case Montee Ball might be worth all the hype that surrounds him.
His stats speak for themselves. Ball racked up 4,131 yards and 61 touchdowns during his last two seasons as a Badger. He even caught six touchdown passes his junior year, which proves he can be a threat in the passing game as well.
Ball’s play his senior year earned him the Doak Walker Award for best running back in the nation. The Steelers would be hard-pressed to find a combination back who has more speed and power at his disposal.
Granted, he is not the fastest back out there. He ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, a number he did improve upon by over a tenth of a second at his pro day (though he was running on a faster surface).
Ball’s other concern is also one of his greatest strengths: experience. He had 983 career touches at Wisconsin, which means his body already has a lot of mileage on it.
On the flip side, earning that many touches also means Ball is incredibly durable. If the Steelers are plagued by injuries the way they were last year, they could use a guy who knows how to stay on the field.