For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a jumbled running back situation heading into the season. As a fantasy owner, it is important to figure out which player you want on your team, if you want any at all.
The Steelers hoped to solidify the position when they drafted Le'Veon Bell in the second round of the NFL draft. Unfortunately, he dealt with knee injuries during training camp and then suffered a sprained foot in his first preseason appearances.
This left a group of veterans on the roster with no definitive idea of who would get the bulk of the carries. As you can see from this chart, this is exactly what happened last season.
Jonathan Dwyer was the one who ended up with the most attempts a year ago and it seemed as though he could once again be the starter. However, he was released by the team in an effort to trim the roster down to 53 players, according to Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.
As a result, the only healthy running backs on the roster are Isaac Redman, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Jones is expected to start Week 1.
Of course, it is hard to trust coaches these days. A player could get one snap and be the starter while someone else gets the bulk of carries, so it is important to look at each possible option.
Throughout his career, Stephens-Howling has rarely been more than a change-of-pace back who comes in on third downs, and that seems to be the role he will take going forward. He did have a few good games last year, but he is simply too small to be a featured back in the NFL.
In the team's final preseason game, Stephens-Howling only had two carries compared to 14 by Jones.
While most squads use this week to rest starters and see who can fill out the bench, the uncertainty at the position forced the Steelers to put a real offense on the field. This is encouraging for Jones, who finished with 56 rushing yards in the game while also adding two receptions.
Which player will be most productive at the start of the season?
He also led the team in carries in the third preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, totaling 29 yards on eight attempts.
However, this still does not separate Stephens-Howling from Redman, who was out the last three weeks with a pinched nerve.
Redman appears to have the trust of the coaching staff, but he has been in this position before. Last year, he had a breakout game against the New York Giants with 147 rushing yards and it appeared that he would become the regular starter.
Unfortunately, he only totaled 136 yards in the next eight games, never truly earning a regular role in the offense.
With the same staff around him, it is hard to imagine that he will get more opportunities as long as there are other options.
That alternative comes in the form of Jones, who is looking for a fresh start with the Steelers after mixed results with the Dallas Cowboys. The former first-round pick has breakaway speed and enough size to handle the load as a full-time back, and he has looked decent thus far with his new team.
While he only managed 402 rushing yards last season as a backup to DeMarco Murray, he has consistently contributed in the passing game, totaling at least 25 catches and 200 yards in each of the past three years.
He also has a career average of 4.8 yards per carry, which is slightly better than Redman's mark of 4.2.
Between the two options, Jones has a much better chance to succeed in the Pittsburgh offense.
Still, it is important to note that Bell might not be out for too long. According to Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter, he is no longer in a walking boot, indicating his recovery is going well.
The injury could still keep him out six to eight weeks, but he retains value as someone who can help out later in the season. Lolley previously tweeted that Redman only had the starting role while Bell was out:
As expected Redman, not Dwyer, will be starting rb for #steelers if Bell doesn't play— Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor) August 27, 2013
This seems to indicate that the job will go to Bell once he returns. This means that if you could only have one Steelers running back, the rookie is the one you want.
However, that does not mean that you should ignore the first few weeks of the season. While Pittsburgh might have a confusing situation, there is still plenty of fantasy value in having a starting running back in the league.
Based on what we have seen, Jones is definitely worth a spot on your team. You can draft him in one of the final rounds or probably just pick him up on waivers at this point, and then keep him to see how he does in Week 1.
If he takes advantage of his opportunity, you could end up with a quality starter in Week 2 for virtually no cost.
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