Certainly the team hasn't hidden its interest in taking a running back early in this year's draft. But if the Steelers choose to instead select quarterback Phillip Rivers in the first round with the 11th pick, they could be in the market for a young free agent running back to pair with Bettis in 2004.
Indianapolis' Dominic Rhodes could fill that role.
A restricted free agent, Rhodes would come to the Steelers at a
cheap price, much cheaper than, say, Philadelphia's Duce Staley.
And despite his restricted status, the Steelers would owe
Indianapolis no compensation for Rhodes, who made the Colts'
roster in 2001 as an undrafted free agent out of Midwestern
State, even if the Colts make a mid-level or better offer to keep
Considering Indianapolis' current cap situation with franchise
quarterback Peyton Manning, making a big pitch to keep their
backup running back isn't high on the Colts' priority list.
But the 25-year-old Rhodes is no ordinary backup.
In 2001 when star running Edgerrin James went down with a
season-ending knee injury, Rhodes stepped in and became the
first undrafted rookie free agent to gain 1,000 yards in his first
season as he rushed for 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns in
just 10 starts. He also showed good receiving skills, catching 34
Sure, the 5-9, 203-pound Rhodes isn't the typical Steelers'
power running back, but with Bettis coming back for another run,
they don't need that. They need a player who's not only able
come in on third downs, but someone who can also come in
and be the every-down back Zereoue never became.
Certainly Rhodes comes with a risk. He tore his ACL in training
camp in 2002 following his fantastic rookie season, but came
back in 2003 and showed he was all the way back from that
Rhodes averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2003 and looked very
good for the Colts in the playoffs, showing good burst and an
ability to get tough yards despite his size.
OK, how about this, in his rookie season, Rhodes averaged 25.4
yards on his 14 kickoff returns. In 2003, he averaged 25.7 yards
on 16 kickoff returns.
And he's only going to get better.
Is Rhodes a great back? No. But he's a solid back who could
come at a reasonable price. And considering the Steelers'
current cap situation, that's exactly what they need if they choose
to grab Rivers in the first round of April's draft.
The Steelers could run with Rhodes
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