It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a big back fetish, not just in their draft prototypes but also in who they've brought in via free agency.
Here are the running backs Kevin Colbert has drafted the last 10 years:
2013: Le'Veon Bell - 2nd - 6-1, 230
2012: Chris Rainey - 5th - 5-8, 180
2011: Baron Batch - 7th - 5-9, 205
2010: Jonathan Dwyer - 6th - 5-11, 229
2009: Frank Summers - 5th - 5-9, 241
2008: Rashard Mendenhall - 1st - 5-10, 225
Rainey is the exception here, but he was brought in more for his receiving and return abilities, so that’s easily explained. The rest of the backs are all 205 or more, and the two with the high value tag (Bell and Mendenhall) are over 225. Recent backs the Steelers have brought in from elsewhere are 6-0, 230-pound Karlos Williams and the 5-11, 227-pound Knile Davis further reveal the franchise’s prototype.
Furthermore, the Steelers have brought in just two Day 1 or 2 at running back over Kevin Colbert’s 17 years in Pittsburgh. In fact, Bell and Mendenhall are the only running backs drafted before the fifth round under the Colbert regime. I’m not counting Dri Archer since he was basically just a return man and was probably more likely to be used as a receiver if he had panned out.
When Mendenhall was drafted in 2008, the team was coming off an impressive season by Willie Parker, but there were doubts that he was a long-term primary back. and the team also had no depth at the position. When Mendenhall unexpectedly fell and there were no desirable offensive tackles on the board, the Steelers didn’t hesitate to get their offense the help it needed.
Before Pittsburgh made Bell their second-round pick in 2013, they were forced to rely on the efforts of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combining to average 3.7 yards per carry. The need for a feature back was obvious, and so when Bell dropped to the second round, Colbert recognized the value and swiped him up.
It’s pretty easy to deduce from Colbert’s draft history in Pittsburgh that this team only takes running backs in the first three rounds when there is a clear need for one. I think we can safely say with Bell and the organization reportedly working toward a long-term deal, that isn’t the case right now. The Davis signing further de-emphasizes the need for a running back, and while Pittsburgh might choose to utilize their third-round compensatory pick on one, history seems to suggest they’ll wait until Day 3 to address the position.
You never know what will happen on draft weekend, but it’s probably safe to say that Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon and Alvin Kamara will all be off the board before Pittsburgh will consider a running back. Past that, it's difficult to say who the NFL will value. There are a host of backs that could fit the team’s prototype, but a couple stand out from the crowd.
Texas’ D'Onta Foreman will be gone by the 135th pick, but the Steelers may be able to nab him with their compensatory pick in Round 3. At 6-0, 233 pounds with light feet and good vision, Foreman fits the Steelers' size requirement and preferred traits at the position, but doesn’t run as aggressively as his size suggests. Foreman also was rarely used as a receiver. with just 13 catches in three years as a Longhorn. I’m not a big fan of his tape or his style, but he fits the type the Steelers might be interested in.
If the team does wait until Day 3, they should have a host of backs who meet their criteria. If 215-220 pounds is a preferred threshold for the team, two players might make a lot of sense in the fourth or fifth round.
Wisconsin’s Corey Clement is 5-10, 220 pounds, and runs with the physicality and active feet of a Steelers back. Pittsburgh is scheme diverse in their blocking tactics, so Clement’s experience in gap and zone approaches would be an ideal addition. Despite his talent, there are character and work ethic concerns that teams will need to vet, as well as several injuries in his past.
Clement can probably be had in the fifth round, but the team may need to dip into the 4th round for Toledo’s Kareem Hunt.
Hunt may not have any outstanding traits, but he’s a well-rounded back who runs with impressive balance and power. The senior also has the skill set to adapt well to various blocking schemes, but there is clearly an athletic ceiling on Hunt’s abilities based on his tape and combine testing. The Steelers don’t really value breakaway speed in their backs, which is good because that’s not Hunt’s game. But as a third-down, complementary piece to Bell, Hunt’s talents could be the perfect asset to Todd Haley’s offense.