It’s been a terrific offseason to date for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first full year with GM Omar Khan in charge. Pittsburgh has addressed a number of needs and added high-end talent throughout the roster, shoring up major holes while putting the franchise in contention right away, at least on paper.
Quietly though, a position on the roster has a significant need at this point in the offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
No, it’s not slot cornerback, inside linebacker or even outside linebacker; those are all well-know.
Instead, it’s running back behind Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. The position absorbed a surprising move Monday with the release of second-year running back Master Teague III, who looked like he was in line to grab the No. 3 role in the Steel City.
Without Teague on the roster, the depth chart behind Harris and Warren looks rather, well, bleak.
Anthony McFarland Jr., Jason Huntley and Alfonzo Graham are the only running backs on the roster behind Harris and Warren currently. That can’t be comforting — for anyone.
That’s where the need for a dependable, experienced RB3 comes into play. Fortunately for the Steelers, a trio of names make a great deal of sense on the depth chart behind Harris and Warren, especially as the Steelers lean heavily into a ground-and-pound attack with second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett at the helm.
Below are a trio of names that make the most sense for the Steelers as running back depth options.
How about a reunion with a familiar, well-known face within the organization?
Snell remains on the open market after four seasons in Pittsburgh, where he bounced around between starter, backup, and core special teamer for the Black and Gold.
A fourth-round pick of the Steelers in the 2019 NFL Draft out of Kentucky, Snell has carried the ball 275 times in his career for 982 yards and seven touchdowns, adding 17 receptions for 114 yards. In four seasons, Snell has appeared in 63 games, missing just three in his career in his rookie season, adding five starts.
Snell’s best season came as a rookie. He rushed for 426 yards and two touchdowns on 108 carries, filling in admirably for the injured James Conner as the Steelers went 8-8 on the season without Ben Roethlisberger under center.
The Steelers know Snell very well. Head coach Mike Tomlin loves him some “Benny Snell Football”, and he’s a core special teams-type of player. He’d be an ideal third running back for the Steelers and showed that against the Indianapolis Colts last season. Filling in for the injured Harris, he rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries as the Steelers rallied for a 24-17 road win on Monday Night Football.
Add in the fact he’s played 991 career snaps on special teams, he’d slot in perfectly as RB3 in Pittsburgh.
A personal favorite name of mine, Jackson has had an interesting career after being selected in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Chargers in the 2018 NFL Draft.
In four seasons with the Chargers, Jackson played in 43 games, starting seven overall. The Northwestern product was third or fourth on the depth chart throughout his time in LA, but was an invaluable depth piece, carrying the ball 206 times for 1,040 yards and four touchdowns.
That stint with the Chargers included a breakout game in 2019 on Sunday Night Football against the Steelers. Jackson rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, making a couple of big plays against the Steelers on the road.
I am once again asking the #Steelers to add Justin Jackson to the RB room.
Played 60% of special teams snaps last season in Detroit. Can be a really strong RB3. https://t.co/VceoCO5DUE
— Josh Carney (@ByJoshCarney) May 22, 2023
Last season, Jackson played 60% of the snaps on special teams in Detroit and was quite comfortable in an RB3 or RB4 role. Jackson played in all 16 games and was a key special teams piece. He has 250 career carries in the NFL for 1,210 yards and five touchdowns, along with 77 receptions for 609 yards and one score. That type of production isn’t easily found at this point on the open market at the RB position, especially in a 27-year-old running back.
Former Browns, Texans and Titans running back Dontrell Hilliard is another name that immediately comes to mind. He’s played a number of special teams snaps in his career and has shown flashes of being a productive back when called upon.
Hilliard, undrafted out of Tulane in 2018, has carved out a nice career in the NFL as a running back and return specialist. He has played in 52 career games with six starts at running back, with all six coming with the Titans the last two seasons, including five in 2021.
In his time in the NFL, Hilliard has carried the football 100 times for 592 yards and four touchdowns and has added 62 receptions for 463 yards and four touchdowns. His best season came in 2021 with the Titans. He rushed for 350 yards and two touchdowns on 56 carries and added 19 receptions for 87 yards while starting five games.
Along with his work out of the backfield, Hilliard has been a solid kick return option, returning 44 kicks for 1,010 yards with a long 74 in his career. He’s also added 17 punt returns for 111 yards over five seasons in the NFL. Just 27 years old, Hilliard has played 607 offensive snaps and another 616 special teams snaps.
The Steelers should know Hilliard well, having dealt with him in the AFC North for three seasons.
Some names are out there at the position. Chances are, the Steelers will add another name or two to the position between now and training camp.
But at the start of OTAs, running back behind Harris and Warren is a real concern for the Steelers, albeit in a quiet way.