Following his arrest Chris Rainey, the Steelers 2012 fifth round pick, was released from the team. This incident (read more here) is Rainey’s second issue with domestic violence. During his time at Florida, Rainey was arrested for texting his girlfriend “time to die.” This time around Rainey was arrested for allegedly slapping his girlfriend in the face and then wrestling her to the ground over a cell phone.
Hours after the arrest became public, the Steelers decided to cut ties with Rainey and waived/cut him. When the Steelers drafted Rainey in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, he was expected to be a return and third down back for the team.
With fellow running backs Rashard Mendenhall (UFA), Baron Batch (UFA), Jonathan Dwyer (RFA) and Issac Redman (RFA) all about to hit free agency, the Steelers are in need of a running back. As of now, the Steelers have no running backs under contract for the 2013 season.
They will likely keep Dwyer, Redman, and Batch around for next season, but the team may look to add another running back in one of the first three rounds of the draft in April. A few names that have been tossed around thus far are that of Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, who would both be projected in the early rounds.
Pittsburgh could also look to free agency for a feature back to help spark the run game, but it is uncommon for the team to search for starters on the open market. Given their salary cap issues they will likely be looking for a rookie back rather than to make a big splash in free agency.
Other backs the Steelers could look at are: Giovani Bernard of North Carolina, Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina and Jawan Jamison of Rutgers.
Bernard is rated as the top running back in the 2013 Draft and currently holds a late first round grade. Lattimore would have been a first round pick if not for a second major knee injury. Due to the injury Lattimore may be available in the sixth or seventh round. Jamison is lesser-known than the others, but has been compared to former Rutgers running back Ray Rice, who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.
If the Steelers decide to look in free agency to find a running back there are some options, although it is unlikely they will do so. Two potential options in free agency are LaGarrette Blount and Andre Brown. Blount and Brown are both bigger backs that fit the Steelers running style. They also fit the bill because they are both young (26) and should not demand large contracts in free agency. However, Blount is a restricted free agent and if Tampa Bay places a tender on him, the Steelers would lose a draft pick by signing him and that is highly unlikely to happen.
As of right now, the most logical option as starting running back in 2013 is Dwyer. Dwyer ran well when he had a consistent offensive line in front of him. With Mike Adams, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, and Marcus Gilbert all expected to be on the line in 2013, the Steelers have a solid young core to run behind and should have more success unless they once again suffer multiple injuries.
For a comparison, Dwyer would be slightly more effective than Mendenhall in terms of being a feature back (300+ carries in a season) due to his yards per carry. Given similar carries to Mendenhall in 2009 and 2010 (his two full seasons in the NFL) Dwyer would be projected to hit 1,300 yards. Mendenhall never reached 1,300 yards as a Steelers and given his free agent status is unlikely to get another chance.
Photo Credits: Associated Press