Steelers Running Back Breakdown: Full Evaluation and Depth Chart Analysis
The 2012 season was not kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield.
Pittsburgh had one of its worst rushing seasons in team history, and even when one back got rolling, chances were, injury would strike at any time.
The Steelers enter 2013 with a new look in the backfield. They parted ways with Rashard Mendenhall and added Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 draft.
This year's competition at running back should be fun to watch, if nothing else. Let's take a look at the Steelers running back position.
Experience: 4th Season
In what was a very down year for the Steelers running game, Jonathan Dwyer provided as much spark out of the backfield as the team could've hoped for.
Dwyer finished the 2013 season a team-high 623 yards on 156 carries and scored twice. The big-framed back only appeared in 13 games, starting just six, due to various injuries he suffered throughout the season.
After coming off his best career season and showing some sort of life for the Steelers in 2012, it was all but certain that Dwyer would come into camp as the Steelers' starter—especially after the team parted ways with Rashard Mendenhall.
But after the team drafted Le'Veon Bell in the second round, rumors swirled that Pittsburgh was trying to move one of their backs. Presumably, that back was Dwyer.
Dwyer's status with the team is going to be under a lot of scrutiny come camp time, and it'll be interesting to see where he fits with this team, especially in a contract year. He could very well be playing for someone else in 2013.
Experience: 5th Season
Like the other Steelers backs, Isaac Redman spent some time on the sidelines with various injuries. Still, Redman managed to contribute in his typical way in 2012.
For the second straight season, Redman carried the ball 110 times. In 2012, he managed 410 yards and scored twice. Redman also caught 19 passes for 244 yards.
Of all the backs on the Steelers' roster, Redman probably has the most well-defined role in the offense. He's carried the ball the same amount of times in both 2011 and 2012 and added one catch to his 2011 total of 18.
Redman won't ever be an every-down back for the Steelers, but he should still continue to contribute in some capacity. He'll most likely end up as the top backup for 2013.
Experience: 3rd Season
Baron Batch is one of the more interesting backs the Steelers have. After a great training camp in 2011, expectations were high for the seventh-round pick from Texas Tech. That is, until Batch tore his ACL and missed the entire season.
His sophomore campaign was less than stellar, as well.
Batch carried only 25 times in 2012 and mustered only 49 yards, scoring once.
If you need to find a silver lining in Batch's performance last season, he did find the endzone in just 25 touches—a feat that took Redman and Dwyer over 100 carries to accomplish. Still, averaging under two yards-per-carry won't get you very far in this league.
The Steelers will have a hard time finding a spot for Batch on the active roster and it's unlikely he'll end up on the practice squad. We could have seen the last of Batch in Pittsburgh.
Experience: 5th Season (1st with Steelers)
Entering his first season with the Steelers, LaRod Stephens-Howling can bring some explosion to a backfield that is currently lacking burst.
Stephens-Howling had his best season in 2012, carrying a career high 111 times for 357 yards and four touchdowns. The former Cardinal also caught 17 passes for 106 yards.
Not only did Stephens-Howling have twice as many touchdowns as any Steelers back in 2012, but his kick-return skills could bring Pittsburgh something they haven't had in years. A threat on kick and punt returns.
Stephens-Howling led the NFL in kick-return yardage in 2010 and has returned three kicks for touchdowns in his career. But his affinity for the big play may be his best asset for the Steelers.
I'm almost positive that Stephens-Howling is going to be on this team to start the regular season. He just brings too much to the offense and special teams to kick him to the curb. The question is, whose spot will he take?
By taking Le'Veon Bell in the second round of this year's NFL draft, the Steelers may have tipped their hand a bit. Basically, they're not sold on any of their backs to play at a high level in 2013.
Bell had a wildly successful career at Michigan State, rushing for over 3,300 career yards and scoring 33 career touchdowns in three seasons. In 2012, Bell plowed away for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns while playing behind a less-than-stellar offensive front.
Despite his big frame, Bell has impressed early on in the receiving game, as well. He's shown nimble feet and good agility on the outside to go along with his power between the tackles.
The Steelers generally like to ease rookies into the NFL, but Bell is already the most talented back the Steelers employ. With the way the team's running game went last season, I wouldn't be shocked if Bell opened the season as the starter in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers added former USC running back Curtis McNeal following the 2013 draft as an undrafted free agent. McNeal showed some promise at USC, rushing for over 1,000 yards on just 145 carries in 2011.
But McNeal's numbers fell in his senior campaign causing him to go undrafted.
McNeal rushed for 701 yards on and two touchdowns on 116 carries as a senior in Southern California.
At this point, McNeal is simply a camp body with a very outside shot to make the team. He has a much better shot at making the practice squad and developing his skills there.
Overall, at this point, the Steelers have a pretty crowded backfield with no clear-cut starter.
Le'Veon Bell is probably the team's most talented back, but he has yet to practice in full pads, much less play a down in the NFL.
If nothing else, there should be good competition in training camp at the running back position—and not just for the starting job. Three guys will most likely compete for the final running back spot.
I'm guessing that Bell and Dwyer will go into camp competing for the starting job. If Dwyer would lose out, it could spell the end for his time in Pittsburgh. Redman will play his typical role and Stephens-Howling will make the team based on his special teams prowess.
Both Batch and McNeal currently have an uphill battle to make the team.
Early Projections: 2013 Running Back Depth Chart
1. Le'Veon Bell
2. Isaac Redman
3. LaRod Stephens-Howling
4. Baron Batch
Cut/Traded: Jonathan Dwyer
Practice Squad: Curtis McNeal