The Year in Comparison for the Pittsburgh Steelers' current needs at running back is 2004, when they had a pair of veterans in Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley, a serviceable No. 3 in Verron Haynes and an excellent blocking fullback in Dan Kreider, with depth behind Kreider on the practice squad in J.T. Wall.
Although it was understood that the aging veterans could go at any time, there really were no needs at the position.
It was similar to this year with Le'Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams coming off injuries and entering the final years of their contracts. This year's Steelers team also has a serviceable No. 3 in Fitzgerald Toussaint, as well as an excellent blocking fullback in Roosevelt Nix.
The comparison is fairly sound, and the Steelers in 2004 didn't draft another running back. But they did beat the bushes well enough to come up with a true home-run hitter after the draft in "Fast" Willie Parker, who went on to Super Bowl fame a couple of years later.
In following through with the comparison, the Steelers could very well add a running back in the late rounds of this draft due to the contract status of their two primary runners, and there is an FWP run-alike in Keith Marshall of Georgia.
Marshall (5-11, 219), like Parker before him, was a prep track star in his home state of North Carolina, with similar size and a straight-line running style.
Marshall is also very fast (4.31 40) and strong (25 reps), and he could slip through the draft cracks after losing his starting job at Georgia because of a series of injuries.
If the Steelers decide to draft a running back, they have two needs they could fill: return specialist and backup fullback.
The best return man among the position group is probably Kenyan Drake (6-0 5/8, 210, 4.45), who flashed his skills in the National Championship Game with a game-changing 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to help Alabama beat Clemson.
Drake is an explosive outside runner and skilled receiver but he's fumbled seven times in his career and has been suspended a couple of times for minor run-ins. He's considered a fifth-round talent, and if the Steelers happen to trade down and acquire a fifth-round pick (traded away for Brandon Boykin), Drake would be a consideration.
A more Steelers-like pick would be Navy option quarterback Keenan Reynolds (5-9 5/8, 191, 4.56), who holds the NCAA record with 88 touchdowns.
Reynolds scored his final touchdown in Navy's 44-28 win over Pitt in the Armed Forces Bowl, in which he passed for 126 yards, rushed for 144, caught a pass for 47 yards, scored three touchdowns and passed for another.
Reynolds would be the first Navy quarterback drafted since Roger Staubach in 1964, but Reynolds plans to change positions. He's been quoted as saying he looks up to former Steelers QB-turned-WR Antwaan Randle El, but Reynolds worked at running back at the East-West Shrine Game until a hamstring injury kept him out of the game.
Of course, graduates of the Naval Academy have a five-year commitment to the military, but because of positive PR the Academy tries to help an athlete work around those requirements, as New England long-snapper Joe Cardona did last year. And there's no doubt the Steelers -- who always seem to have one converted quarterback on their roster -- would love to add another character-rich player to their locker room.
The seventh round very well could be a value round for a deep crop of fullbacks in this year's draft.
The Steelers lost Will Johnson in free agency and could use another FB/TE/H-back type. Those can be found after the draft; however, there are at least three who are so talented, and would help on special teams enough, to warrant a late pick:
* Devon Johnson (6-0 5/8, 253, 4.63) of Marshall is a converted tight end who's served as both leading rusher in 2014 and team captain the last two seasons.
* Soma Vainuku (5-11 1/2, 246, 4.64) is the cousin of Cincinnati Bengals LB Rey Maualuga and is a two-time Special Teams Player of the Year at USC. He's been something of a legend there since denting his facemask while forcing a fumble during the first kickoff he covered as a freshman.
* Dan Vitale (6-1, 239, 4.6) of Northwestern is a hybrid TE/FB who blew up the NFL Combine with the fastest short shuttle time (4.12) and most bench reps (30) of any running back, to go along with a vertical jump of 38 1/2 and a 3-cone time of 7.12. Vitale lined up everywhere a tight end and fullback can, in line and off, and was a team captain and four-year starter.
1. Ezekiel Elliott (RB), 5-11 3/4, 225, Ohio State.
2. Derrick Henry (RB), 6-2 5/8, 247, Alabama.
3. Devontae Booker (RB/KR), 5-11, 219, Utah.
4. Jordan Howard (RB), 5-11 7/8, 230, Indiana.
5. Kenneth Dixon (RB), 5-10 1/8, 215, Louisiana Tech.
STEELERS VALUE BOARD
Fifth Round -- Drake (RB/WR/KR), Alabama.
Sixth Round -- Reynolds (RB/QB/PR), Navy.
Seventh Round -- Tyler Ervin (RB/RS), San Jose State; Johnson (RB/FB), Marshall; Vainuku (FB), USC; Vitale (FB/HB/TE) Northwestern.
Priority Free Agent -- Marshall (RB/KR), Georgia.