The NFL Draft is over and the Steelers have added many new faces to the roster. In this series, we’ll take a look at each position and what you need to know as the offseason rolls on. In Part Three, we’ll break down the offensive backfield.
This group might be the easiest to decipher at the top with the 2021 rookie sensation, Najee Harris, the guaranteed workhorse contributor out of the backfield. Behind Harris, though, it gets a little tougher. Veteran backups Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland are anything but locks to remain on the roster, despite the Steelers not addressing the position in the NFL Draft last month.
Rounding out the current 90-man roster are Trey Edmunds and Undrafted Free Agents (UDFAs) Mataeo Durant, out of Duke University, and Jaylen Warren, from Oklahoma State. For Edmunds, his hope of making the roster hinges on his ability to contribute in a multitude of areas, from Special Teams to Fullback to H-Back. He’s looking over his shoulder big time (See: Steelers 2022 6th Round selection Connor Heyward) and probably will be looking for a new home after training camp.
In the cases of Durant and Warren, their ability to flash playmaking ability and versatility is key. It won’t be enough to replicate any other of the other players’ skillsets that we’ve already mentioned. These guys will need to stand out on the field and in the meeting room to steal a roster spot from the “entrenched” backups.
Lastly, fullback (FB) Derek Watt has turned in a couple less-than-stellar seasons in the black and gold, but he does have a very defined role on special teams and is a locker-room gel guy. Similar to Trey Edmunds, he’s got a versatile rookie on his tail in Connor Heyward and may be replaceable in 2022. We’ll talk about Cam’s little brother more in depth when we review the Tight End group in a later article.
I love talking about Najee Harris. I love watching him play. His 37-yard touchdown scamper with 51 seconds left in Ben Roethlisberger’s last home game against the Browns was the highlight of the season.
Harris has a chance to be a true game-changer for this offense as a Derrick Henry-like weapon on the field. I am on record as a believer that a more efficient Najee Harris in 2022 gives this team a chance to be special on offense and a real contender as a team. Mark it down now, Najee Harris will be one of the league’s best backs in his second season.
Najee is going to need some of his massive 2021 load taken off his shoulders this year, which brings us to Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland. Starting with Snell, his general lack of explosiveness makes his status as RB2 both head-scratching and perilous. McFarland is going to come after this title in training camp, and as the far more explosive athlete with real speed, he fits the mold of change-of-pace RB2 much better than Snell. This will be an intriguing competition in camp, with McFarland hoping to shake off an injury-riddled 2021 campaign and Benny Snell taking on his final chance to prove he belongs on an NFL roster.
I am a firm believer Trey Edmunds’ days as a Steeler are numbered. Connor Heyward is the wild card here and, along with Derek Watt, could spell the end of Trey’s usefulness in the offense. Speaking of Watt, can the Steelers really justify his $4.7M cap hit in 2022 for him to just be a special teams player? We will see just how insistent the Steelers are on keeping one or both of these sets of brothers together this season.
For Mataeo Durant, his quickness and speed will need to be displayed early and often in camp to push the players ahead of him. He has change-of-pace and home-run ability if he can develop quickly in Pittsburgh. Jaylen Warren may have a small frame, but his impact stability and tackle breaking ability were impressive in college for a player his size. That will need to carry over in training camp for him to show he belongs. If not for the shaky talent ahead of them, their shots of gaining a roster spot would be next to none.
Depth Chart Prediction
Like I said at the top, this is as obvious as it gets. The offense will go as far as Najee goes in 2022 as the unquestioned workhorse back on the team. I see a down-to-the-wire competition between Snell and McFarland, with the latter’s overall explosiveness winning out as the team’s RB2. Behind McFarland, you’ll probably find Snell at RB3 with one of the undrafted guys landing on the practice squad.
I predict Trey Edmunds will be looking elsewhere for work after training camp while Derek Watt holds onto his roster spot for another year. Watt just makes more sense as the more natural FB and special teams ace.
RB1: Najee Harris
RB2: Anthony McFarland
RB3: Benny Snell
FB: Derek Watt
Practice Squad: Mataeo Durant
So, Steeler Nation, who has the upper hand in the race for RB2? What happens with Edmunds and Watt? Leave your thoughts in the comment section and vote in the poll below.