The Pittsburgh Steelers have a great history of running backs from Willie Parker to Jerome Bettis to Franco Harris to John Henry Johnson and right on down the list. Unfortunately, however, over the past couple seasons the team has struggled to do much of anything in the running game.
The last time the Steelers had a 1,000-yard rusher was in 2010 when Rashard Mendenhall ran for 1273 yards and 13 touchdowns. Now, Mendenhall is with the Arizona Cardinals, which leaves the team with an open competition for the starting running back spot in 2013.
Currently on the roster are Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Baron Batch, LaRod Stephens-Howling, and rookies Le’Veon Bell and Curtis McNeal.
The Steelers normally like to keep four running backs on the roster besides having Will Johnson make it as the full back. Right now the only lock I see to be on the team is second-round pick Le’Veon Bell, and he should be given every opportunity to win the starting job.
The only reason I see him as the only lock is because the Steelers just don’t have enough roster spots to keep every one of the backs. The team will either find a way to trade Dwyer or Redman, or just cut Batch or Stephens-Howling.
If the team is not able to trade any of the running backs then I would see Baron Batch, and obviously Curtis McNeal, being the odd guys out at this point. Batch is a good special teams player, however, Stephens-Howling’s ability to return kicks gives him a huge edge in my opinion. I just think Dwyer and Redman are too good to just cut outright and the team could use good depth at a position that takes the type of pounding that running back does.
With the roster spots set I would see the team having a three-man competition between Bell, Dwyer and Redman for the starting job, with Bell being the likely winner of that battle. I really like both Dwyer and Redman but I just don’t see them being able to overtake Bell unless the rookie looks completely lost in camp.
That would leave Dwyer and Redman to battle to be the main backup to Bell, and I would give the edge to Dwyer in this matchup. Redman is as tough a runner there is in the NFL, however, he doesn’t have the skill set that Dwyer has. Redman would be best-used as a short-yardage back with the ability to give the team more if injuries occurred at the position.
LaRod Stephens-Howling can be used as a third-down option, though I see him making his biggest contributions on special teams. Even if Stephens-Howling doesn’t win the job of kick returner, the fact that he has that ability to make an impact in the return game should give him the edge at making the team.
As with any position on the team, if everyone stays healthy the Steelers should have a pretty good rushing attack in 2013.
2013 Projected Running Back Depth Chart
Starter: Le’Veon Bell
Backup: Jonathan Dwyer
Short Yardage: Isaac Redman
Third Down/Special Teams: LaRod Stephens-Howling
Cut: Baron Batch, Curtis McNeal
Statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com.