Kareem Hunt / DUYOS / USA TODAY Sports Images

Steelers Draft '17: RBs

Steelers need depth in their offensive backfield, and this is the draft in which to find it.

You have to give Kareem Hunt points for loyalty. 

A lotta points.

Born and raised in the Cleveland suburb of Willoughby, the Toledo running back was holding court at the NFL Combine with writers from the Cleveland area and telling them that playing for the Browns "would mean a lot ... I'm going to be a Browns fan till I die," he said.

That's some grim talk right there.

But Hunt also has a favorite runner, and he's not with the Browns. He's with the Browns' bitter rival down the turnpike.

Why Le'Veon Bell?

"He’s got a different mindset," Hunt said. "He sets it up pretty good. He sees things before. I like the way he sets up his blockers. He makes the defenders think he’s going one way and he’s going to go the whole opposite way, and I like that about him. He’s got a great cut and balance and he’s a strong, tough running back."

That strong, tough running back needs a backup, and a three-down back like Hunt, who can run, catch and block, fits the bill. Besides, unless Kevin Colbert pulls off a Rashard Mendenhall and can't pass on, say, the great value of a falling Leonard Fournette in the first round, the Steelers will be looking for a back in the middle rounds, such as Hunt.

Of course, the Cleveland scribes didn't want to hear about Bell. "Whoa, whoa whoa," they said as Hunt began talking Steelers.

"I’m definitely a Browns fan," Hunt said with a laugh. "I mean, we might not have the best season but I’ll go against the Steelers for the Browns when they play, trust me. You can ask anybody from PA that played on Toledo. And we had a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers fans."

Hunt, like any rookie drafted this year, would be expected to slide behind Bell and probably ahead of Knile Davis, the speed receiver/kickoff return type the Steelers just signed in free agency.

Hunt, a 4,945-yard workorse at Toledo, who fumbled only once in 855 touches, is one of several candidates for the open vacancy on the Steelers depth chart. Presuming this isn't 2008, when the areas of need had already been picked through in leading to the Mendenhall selection, the Steelers will be looking at a deep mid-round group of potential backups.

This first group carries the potential of becoming star first-teamers and would probably require a third-round pick:

* D'Onta Foreman (6-0, 233) rushed for over 2,000 yards last season at Texas with 120-plus yards in every game. He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best back but on the down side fumbled six times, had only seven receptions, is a terrible pass-blocker and has an injured left foot.

* Samaje Perine (5-10 1/2, 233) another big, downhill runner who's a better receiver and pass-blocker than Foreman, but who also carries with him the question mark of playing against the spread defenses and light boxes of the Big 12 Conference.

* Wayne Gallman (6-0 1/2, 215) not as big and athletically gifted as the Big 12 runners, but this son of a Marine has already graduated and led Clemson to a 33-3 record as a starter. Not even QB DeShaun Watson (32-3) was as big a winner at Clemson as Gallman, who hit it off with Steelers RB Coach James Saxon at the Combine.

* Marlon Mack (5-11 1/2, 213) turned down offers from Big 10 and ACC schools to play at South Florida, where his high school coach had played. Mack had three 1,000-yard seasons and 63 receptions but did fumble 12 times in 651 touches. He's an athletic big man who runs with patience and fits the Steelers offense.

The Steelers could pass on that group of third-rounders and find one of the following at the bottom of the fourth:

* Hunt (5-10 1/2, 216) lost a bunch of weight for the Senior Bowl and caused some re-writing of scouting reports with his improved quickness. Scored 44 career touchdowns, so he knows his way to paydirt, and he just doesn't fumble.

* Elijah McGuire (5-10, 214) was the East-West Shrine Game MVP and then declined a late Senior Bowl offer, possibly due to a foot injury that bothered him all season. A potential mid-round steal, McGuire would be the first RB the Steelers have chosen out of Louisiana-Lafayette since Ivan "Ike" Taylor in 2003.

* James Conner (6-1 1/2, 233) won't beat defenses with speed, and probably won't have his way with power as he did at Pitt, but who wouldn't want this inspirational young man in their locker room? He can run, catch and block and would provide great depth behind Bell.

* Jeremy McNichols (5-8 1/2, 214) of Boise State is another potential mid-round steal. His power for size brings to mind Maurice Jones-Drew and is a weapon as a pass-catcher.


If the Steelers love one of those players mentioned in the third round, and have good reason, take him. But my suggestion would be to see which of the next group slips to the bottom of the fourth round, and take that player. I believe the drafting of Conner would greatly uplift not only local fans but also the people and players already in the building.


First Round -- Christian McCaffrey, Stanford.

Third Round -- Wayne Gallman, Clemson.

Fourth Round -- Kareem Hunt, Toledo; James Conner, Pitt.

Fifth Round -- Brian Hill, Wyoming.

Sixth Round -- Elijah Hood, North Carolina; Aaron Jones, UTEP.

* To read about Jon Ledyard's favorite mid-round Steelers fits, click here.

* To read more about James Conner and the rest of Thursday's visitors, click here.

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