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2015 NFL Combine filled with rushing talent a boon for Steelers

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The buzz around the NFL right now is about college prospects that will be entering the Combine and the 2015 Draft.  The Pittsburgh Steelers have some questions at running back.  While Le’Veon Bell had a standout season in 2014, Dri Archer and Josh Harris have yet to prove that they are long-term answers behind Bell.  The fact that there is a crop of strong new talent filling the scouting reports, preparing to put their scores up at the Combine and catch the eye of NFL teams is refreshing after a 2014 season where most of the focus was placed on quarterbacks who were able to orchestrate drives that picked defenses apart.  The quarterback class isn’t strong, eerily similar to 2014 (remember Geno Smith?), which makes it potentially exciting for the Steelers who could bolster the rushing position in a year when the salary cap may keep them from bartering for a free agent in their offensive backfield.

Forget the fact that Jameis Winston, Bryce Petty and Marcus Mariota are headlining what many insiders consider to be a quarterback-heavy first round.  Every NFL team would love to claim their franchise quarterback, getting excited because they really want someone solid in the pocket who can create the kind of magic that Tom Brady and Russ Wilson did in the Super Bowl.  Pittsburgh isn’t in the market for a franchise field general – they have already made it clear that Ben Roethlisberger is going to be their man moving forward.

The Steelers have been saying for two years that they want to return to the run game.  After Bell’s outstanding performance, it’s safe to say that Pittsburgh has found the type of back they are interested in; a strong runner with heads-up ability, fast feet, the ability to protect on the pass play and burst out of the backfield to be an outlet receiver.  Despite the fact that the running back position has been devalued over the past few seasons in the league, Pittsburgh demonstrated that an evolution in the prototypical offensive back has begun.  Their move may be pioneering genius as teams are now re-evaluating guys like Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray.  Organizations, like the Steelers, that move away from the mindset of a quarterback savior will find the transition to a balanced offensive approach much easier.  Pittsburgh finds themselves already ahead of the curve.

The new winning formula may very well be to pair promising, consistent passers with talented runners who have great ball-protection skills, elusiveness and the ability to catch in the open field.  Whether NFL executives will embrace the new idea remains to be seen.  If you’re a Steelers fan, you may be secretly smiling right now that the front office in Pittsburgh appears to have tapped into a little football ESP.

In 2014, teams that did very well had running backs that were capable of changing offenses and games by giving quarterbacks more options than simply targeting the tall and lanky wideouts that had been coveted the past few seasons.  2015 will be a buyer’s market for the new breed of rushers.  Even better, with the depth in this year’s crop, teams like the Steelers should be able to find a low-dollar backup to Bell that can enter camp with Archer and Harris and create the one-two punch that would give firepower to the backfield, especially in the red zone.

Let other teams insist that the NFL is a “throwing league”.  The Steelers are in the perfect position to redefine a new era in professional football and it could start with the man standing behind Roethlisberger on the field.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. GHardy

    February 16, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    This is one of the most insightful articles I have read lately. Excellent points. The Rooney family was laughed at for saying the Steelers would remain a running team. Nearly every team in the league in 2014 had diversity at running back. Christina, you are absolutely correct that the Steelers are ahead of the curve. They proved tall receivers and hot gunners only go so far when it comes to efficient and effective offenses. This team is primed to make a lot of noise in 2015.

  2. DrGeorge

    February 16, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Christina, we’ve been saying here for the past three years that the Steelers needed better offensive balance — meaning a running game to keep defenses honest. And Tomlin and Mr.Rooney agreed. This is hardly news. It is also true that we need quality depth behind Bell. And I agree with you that the top teams have a superb ground game to exploit the new light, fast LBs that teams must employ to cover receivers in the spread offense. But none of that would justify signing a high profile RB this year.

    What we need first and foremost in 2015 are defensive studs, starters and backups, at CB, Safety, OLB, and D-line. Those needs are critical — far more so than RB. I can’t imagine the Steelers wasting a draft pick on an RB before Round 6, if at all. If we fail to rebuild the defense this year, we’re looking at a losing season in 2015. So if the Steelers are eyeing RBs at the combine, they’re identifying potential UFAs they can sign after the draft at or close to minimum salary, not marquee players. The “excitement” this year must be on the other side of the line.

  3. sdean

    February 16, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    After watching the Steelers in 2014, I think it would be a mistake to not address running back depth. The defense isn’t going to score enough points to win games.

    The Steelers need to address their defense, without a doubt. This defense vs offense is an age-old debate. The winning formula is strong play on both sides of the ball.

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