By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
Earlier in the week, I took a look at the quarterback depth chart and gave my analysis of how the roster will likely turn out by the end of the season. Now, I will continue my breakdown of the backfield by looking at the running backs and fullbacks.
Players on Roster:
-#26 Le’Veon Bell (6’1″, 225 lbs.; 24 years old; 4 years experience; Michigan State)
-#34 DeAngelo Williams (5’9″, 207 lbs.; 33 years old; 11 years experience; Memphis)
-#33 Fitzgerald Toussaint (5’9″, 204 lbs.; 26 years old; 3 years experience; Michigan)
-#38 Daryl Richardson (5’11”, 196 lbs.; 26 years old; 3 years experience; Abilene Christian)
-#44 Rajion Neal (5’11”, 220 lbs.; 24 years old; 1 year experience; Tennessee)
-#45 Roosevelt Nix (5’11”, 248 lbs.; 24 years old; 2 years experience; Kent State)
Undrafted Free Agents/Tryouts:
-#49 Christian Powell (6’0″, 235 lbs.; 22 years old; rookie; Colorado)
Just as with quarterback, there is no true competition for the starting spot, as All-Pro Le’Veon Bell is firmly entrenched as the starter and backup DeAngelo Williams will return again for his role as the top relief for Bell in the Steelers system. Beyond Bell and Williams, it is highly expected that Fitzgerald Toussaint will be the #3 running back on the depth chart after his commendable performance in last years playoffs (except for the untimely fumble against the Broncos that likely sealed the fate of the game). Although this is very easy to project, it does not paint the full picture of the Steelers running back situation.
Bell is entering his contract year and after back-to-back years with season-ending knee injuries, Bell is anything from a sure thing to return for the 2017 season, especially since the Steelers have already said that they don’t plan on “breaking the bank” for his services (although most expect the team to sign him to a long-term contract at some point). Beyond Bell, Williams is also entering his contract year and at 33 years old, there is no telling whether the team will resign him after the 2016 season, especially with the emergence of Toussaint as a viable option. Although the 2016 depth chart should be set in stone, this will present an interesting situation for the Steelers moving forward.
There is no denying that Bell is one of the best running backs in the NFL due to his elite skills as a runner and as a receiver, which makes the Steelers offense as dangerous as it is. After going down with a torn MCL last season, Williams stepped in and had one of the most productive seasons of his long NFL career. After an injury to his ankle in week 17, Williams was replaced by Toussaint, who showed potential out of the backfield as a runner and receiver.
At fullback, the team was beyond pleased with Roosevelt Nix and his great play as a run blocker. They were confident enough with his play to move on from Will Johnson. Roosevelt will look to continue his improvement for the Steelers strong rush offense.
The remaining running backs on the roster will likely be competing to be noticed by the coaching staff, especially considering the questions that surround the top two players after the 2016 season. Daryl Richardson started his career with the Rams and made a promising start being the primary back up to Steven Jackson. But after two seasons, he was waived by the team and has been bouncing around the NFL ever since. Unlike Richardson, Rajion Neal has yet to really make an impact in the NFL, as he has never been anything more than a practice squad player, although he showed some promise as a college prospect. Of these backs, undrafted player Christian Powell is the most interesting prospect due to his bruising downhill running style and surprisingly soft hands for a big back. All three players will be fighting for the attention of the coaching staff and potentially a spot on the roster or practice squad. Depending on the future of the running back position for the Steelers, this could become an interesting battle as the preseason rolls along.
Expected Depth Chart:
- Le’Veon Bell (Starter)
- DeAngelo Williams
- Fitzgerald Toussaint
With Bell firmly entrenched as the Steelers starter for the 2016 season and Williams placed as the top backup, the only real competition here will be for the final running back spot. With Toussaint’s play last season and his ability to rise to the occasion in the playoffs, the #3 spot will likely be his spot to lose. The only way he will be supplanted from this spot is if one of the three remaining running backs play out of this world during the preseason. Due to the injuries to Bell and Williams last season, the Steelers will likely want to save them during the preseason, meaning that Toussaint, Richardson, Neal, and Powell will all get a long, hard look for the last spot. If there is one player with the greatest chance of taking away the #3 spot from Toussaint, it would likely be Richardson due to his flashes of ability with the Rams and his athleticism. Realistically, though, the Steelers will stick with the known commodity in Toussaint. If Powell can show promises as a rusher, he might be able to find a spot on the practice squad for the Steelers to groom him and see what kind of player they have in him.
Coming up next: Wide Receivers. Stay tuned!
Check out my previous position breakdowns: