The Pittsburgh Steelers have an excellent young talent in Rashard Mendenhall. In both of Mendenhall's two seasons as starter he has rushed for over 1,000 yards, and he nearly doubled his touchdown count last year.
The Steelers know they have a very good running threat in Mendenhall, and won't be looking to find his replacement in the 2011 NFL Draft. They will be looking for their new third down running back, however.
Mewelde Moore held the third down responsibilities early on in his career in Pittsburgh, but lost his position to Rashard Mendenhall by the end of 2011. The Steelers will look for a running back that can help them in the passing game.
Mendenhall has improved as a receiver, and could continue his role as the third down back next year, making the newly drafted rookie less valuable. Anyone who has watched the Mike Tomlin coached Steelers will tell you, however, that the Steelers don't mind getting all of their running backs involved.
The Steelers have needs at cornerback, on offensive line and defensive line, so the chances on a running back being drafted in the first four rounds isn't very great, which narrows their choices down substantially.
There are a few running backs that can catch the ball near the end of the draft. The following list is in order of draft projection. Not every back will be available to the Steelers, and not every back is the perfect fit. They are the backs that are known most for their talents as a receiver.
1. Demarco Murray, Oklahoma
This Sooner running back was at his best when used as a receiver out of the backfield. Murray has a knack for finding holes in coverage and has great hands for a running back. Murray has very good speed to go along with a bulky frame. Despite being bulkier than most running backs with his skill sets, Murray can manipulate the poor linebacker trying to cover him and get around tackles easily. Murray could have been a top choice for running back needy teams if it weren't for his injury plagued past. Murray has missed time due to injury in all four years of his college career.
2. Shane Vereen, California
Of any running back on this list, Vereen spent the most time actually playing split out like a receiver. Vereen has been heralded for his route running and had steady hands throughout college. Vereen can even mix it up in pass protection. The toughness level Vereen displays would be necessary if he wants to block for Ben Roethlisberger.
3. Alexander Green, Hawaii
Hawaii doesn't really have running backs. Hawaii has receivers that stand behind the quarterback. That pretty much sums up Green's tenure at Hawaii. He is pretty natural at playing the ball in the air and has good hands. Green's best attribute is his pass protection. Green's big size make him sturdy against on-coming linebackers. The Steelers don't tend to use their running backs to block, leaning more towards Heath Miller for that. Green shouldn't end up being a Steeler, as they are looking for a back with more speed.
4. Derrick Locke, Kentucky
Locke may be the best running back at playing the ball in the air and has very good hands. Locke's best attribute is his ability to pick up yards after the catch. His size makes him a liability in pass protection, but he will lay a good block from time to time. Locke could be a solid pick for the Steelers here, as his pass catching and speed combination may be too much to ignore.
5. Graig Cooper, Miami
Cooper is very good at looking the ball into his hands and has a nice burst after the catch. He runs much faster in pads then the numbers will show, and can get to open field in a blink. Cooper is weak at pass protection but won't be asked for much of it if he is drafted by Pittsburgh.
Who is the best receiving running back in the draft?
6. Da'Rel Scott, Maryland
The Steelers have already interviewed Scott, and it looks like he could be the pick. I even have him going to the Steelers in my own seven round mock draft. Scott reminds me a lot of Willie Parker mixed with Chris Johnson. Scott and Parker are similar in that they were held back in college for some "diva-like" qualities, but had all the abilities to do great in college. Scott's similarities to Chris Johnson is his top-end speed. Scott won't make too many blocks, but he will be down the sidelines in an instant. Scott is very good at making tacklers miss and has good hands.