The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t currently have any running backs under contract for the 2013 season. It is also rumored that they are looking for a feature back that can be a go to guy on offense. If they don’t think that Jonathan Dwyer or Isaac Redman has what it takes to be that guy and if they don’t want to re-sign Rashard Mendenhall then they will be forced to find a new running back this off-season. That means finding a player in free agency or in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Mendenhall will become an unrestricted free agent in March and unless he is willing to take a very small contract he won’t be back in Pittsburgh in 2013. If the Steelers could get their offensive line healthy and working well together Mendenhall could return to form and be a feature back on offense, but with the line in shambles and Mendenhall returning from ACL surgery 2012 wasn’t exactly his year. Many fans have turned on Mendenhall because of different reasons and he has been unfairly labelled as a fumbler mainly because of an untimely fumbled in Super Bowl 45.
During his NFL career Mendenhall has rushed for over 1,000 yards twice and averages 4.1 yards per carry. Mendenhall is also a solid pass catcher out of the backfield and has caught 77 passes during his five years with Pittsburgh. Mendenhall’s three fumbles in 2012 match the highest total of his career, but only one of those was a lost fumble. So far through five seasons Mendenhall has fumbled the ball nine times and lost seven of those fumbles. That means he fumbles about every 105 times he touches the ball. For a better perspective that number is better than Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, and Jamaal Charles.
Behind Mendenhall the Steelers have Dwyer and Redman who are both set to become restricted free agents this off-season. Dwyer has shown flashes during his first three seasons in Pittsburgh and his running style and size remind many fans of Jerome Bettis. Dwyer has averaged 4.3 yards per carry so far during his career and with a stable offensive line rushed for over 107 yards in week 7 and 8; two of the Steelers best rushing games of the season. Dwyer is only 23 years of age despite already having been in the league for three seasons. He has the ability to be a feature back in the NFL if he can put himself together and if the offensive line in front of him stays consistent.
Redman also could become a feature back in the NFL with more consistency. A 2009 undrafted rookie free agent out of Bowie State Redman has defied the odds by becoming a regular on the Steelers offense. He is a tough runner and is very good in short yardage situations. Redman, like all of the Steelers backs, would benefit from a consistent offensive line. During the Steelers three week stretch from week 7 to week 9 when they had the same line start each week they also produced their three best rushing games. Dwyer’s two games listed above and Redman added a 147 yard performance in week 9.
Late in the 2012 season the Steelers were battling injuries and had to waive running back Baron Batch. He was added to the practice squad and returned to the active roster, but by waiving him the Steelers voided his contract. Batch is now an exclusive rights free agent and should be back with the team for the 2013 season. Batch may be able to secure the role of being the pass play and third down type back with Chris Rainey out of the picture. Rainey was cut by the Steelers a few weeks ago following another run in with the law.
During the 2011 training camp Batch was making headlines for his blocking ability, but a torn ACL cut his rookie season short. When the Steelers drafted Rainey in the 2012 NFL Draft many wondered if Batch would stay with the team. However, the Steelers decided to keep Batch and only carry four receivers during most of the 2012 season. Batch should be back in the picture at least for training camp in 2013 and if he can return to form with his knee injury two years behind him he could be at the very least a back-up running back and pass catching option out of the backfield for the Steelers.
With all of the Steelers 2012 running backs set to become free agents and with no true feature back emerging in 2012 running back will likely be addressed in the draft. The Steelers could look to free agency to fill their ranks at running back, but the only players they would likely looking at is Mendenhall, Dwyer, Redman, and Batch. Those four players would be a solid stable of backs, but it is more likely that the Steelers will bring back Redman, Dwyer, and Batch and look to the draft to find another back to compete for the starting job.
Mendenhall is unlikely to return in 2013 which means the Steelers will need to find their new feature back. If they don’t think that Dwyer can be that guy they may just have to use their second or third round pick to try and find that person. As the Baltimore Ravens showed in the 2012 NFL Draft by selecting Bernard Pierce in the third round, however, good running backs can be found late on in the draft.
The Steelers have the seventeenth pick in the first round of the draft, but their are no top twenty running backs in the 2013 NFL Draft. That means running back will be addressed somewhere between the second and fifth rounds of the draft. Eddie Lacy of Alabama, Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina, Stepfan Taylor of Stanford, Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Giovani Bernard of North Carolina could all be that player, but until the draft gets closer it will be hard to know who will be around when the Steelers are picking in the second round and beyond.