Steelers draft 2010: Running back

SteelCityInsider.com publisher Jim Wexell's draft series on the Pittsburgh Steelers continues today with the running back position.

It was more wishing than hoping by Steelers fans early last season when the team sent a scout to Minnesota for a game against the visiting California Bears.

And if the Steelers were seriously looking at Cal RB Jahvid Best, the dream evaporated when Best scored all five Cal touchdowns in a 35-21 win. It clinched the fact that Best, a California high school sprint champ, would be long gone by the time the Steelers drafted in the first round.

However, time has changed that dynamic. After suffering a highly publicized and frightening concussion late last season, Best just might be available to the Steelers when they pick in the second round.

They do need another back, maybe two. And Best has been cleared medically since sustaining concussions in back-to-back games, the second of which was a soaring, somersaulting crash on his head in the end zone.

At the combine, Best, who averaged 7.3 yards per carry and scored 29 rushing touchdowns in three seasons, measured 5-10.1, 199 and ran in the mid 4.3s. He's electric with the ball, and his hands are so good scouts consider him an on-field receiving complement instead of someone who would merely back up Rashard Mendenhall.

Of course, Best is slight and injury prone. He's missed games in each of his three seasons to injuries. So, if the Steelers feel Mendenhall needs help in their short-yardage game, they would opt instead for inside runners such as Toby Gerhart (6-0, 231, 4.56) or Ben Tate (5-11, 220, 4.43) in the third round.

Gerhart might even fit as a fullback, which is another need. Frank Summers worked at fullback during his rookie camp and showed occasional flashes. But a back injury landed Summers on IR before opening day, and it's possible he could return as just a tailback. Carey Davis and David Johnson filled the fullback role last season, but Davis hasn't been re-signed and Johnson didn't help much as a converted tight end.

Sean McHugh, who spent the season on IR, is another tight end conversion at the position, but Gerhart could follow Brian Leonard's path in the NFL as a fullback on occasional run downs and a third-down tailback because of the size he'd provide in the backfield as a pass-protector.

Gerhart has a similar build to Cincinnati's Leonard (6 1.4, 226), as well as similar athletic ability. Both ran 4.5s at their combines and both had similar 20 and 10 splits, as well as short-shuttle and three-cone times. Both catch the ball extremely well and provide short-yardage running skills.

Rashawn Jackson (6-1, 239, 4.73) is another fullback who could also fill in at tailback if needed. But Jackson brings a troubled past that'll probably cost him with the Steelers, who are looking to restore their reputation during a difficult off-season.

If the Steelers are looking for a true lead fullback in the Dan Kreider mold, Kentucky's John "Terminator" Conner is their man. While offensive coordinator Bruce Arians might argue that Conner brings little skills other than his blocking, Conner showed in the Senior Bowl that he can catch sideways passes just as ably as Kreider did back in his days with the Steelers.

If the Steelers want a pure sledgehammer in the backfield, they could opt for Oklahoma's Brody Eldridge, who started his career as a fullback before moving to tight end and finally center. In fact, Eldridge could help the Steelers at each of those positions.

Value Board

Second round -- Jahvid Best, California.

Third round -- Toby Gerhart, Stanford; Ben Tate, Auburn.

Fourth round -- Montario Hardesty, Tennessee.

Fifth round -- Rashawn Jackson, Virginia.

Sixth round -- Charles Scott, LSU; Javarris James, Miami; John Conner, Kentucky.

Free agent -- Brody Eldridge, Oklahoma.


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