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Breaking down the Steelers’ position battle at running back

After Najee Harris, the Steelers may not have any big-named running backs, but the depth from top to bottom looks relatively solid. Jaylen Warren definitely exceeded my expectations in 2022, and Anthony McFarland has been a favorite of mine since his days at Maryland. With a multitude of running backs on the 90-man roster, are there any other names who could vie with McFarland for the RB3 spot?

Jason Huntley was a player I had my eye on closely this offseason as someone who could become a training camp darling. However, he was abruptly cut, signing with the Indianapolis Colts not long after his release from the Steelers. This roster move made me give a little more thought to the battle for the RB3 spot. Is anyone able to beat out Anthony McFarland, or will the Steelers run back their familiar three?

Let’s take a look at each player vying for that roster spot and see what conclusion we can come to.

Anthony McFarland, Jr.

McFarland definitely has the upper hand in this battle, considering his relationship with Matt Canada and familiarity with Canada’s offense. The big issues for McFarland have been health and patience. When he is available and fully healthy, the talent is evident. However, he has failed to let the game come to him. He often lacks patience as a runner, attempting to run through a hole that has not yet been opened up enough. Even though he may be the front runner to make the roster, he still needs a strong showing in the remainder of the preseason to secure his spot.

Darius Hagans

Hagans was a standout at the HBCU combine and garnered the attention of the Steelers brass. However, things have been pretty quiet on his front as of late, and barring some magical performance in a preseason game, it seems unlikely for him to beat out McFarland for a roster spot. He does seem to be a pretty high-character guy on and off the field, which could bode well for his chances of getting a spot on the practice squad. Possessing a nice balance of size, speed, and balance, Hagans definitely has enough traits to land a spot on a practice squad, whether it be in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.

Xazavian Valladay

The newest addition to the Steelers backfield, Valladay may be the most intriguing running back the Steelers have on the roster. Despite being an unproven rookie, the hype is real surrounding him, as his athleticism is noteworthy. Displaying outstanding shiftiness in the open field, Valladay enjoyed great success in 2022 for Arizona State, replacing standout running back Rachaad White. At his pro day, he recorded a 4.46 40, 40″ vertical, 123″ broad jump, 22 bench reps, and a 7.00 3-cone drill. Coming in on short notice, Valladay will have an uphill battle trying to beat out McFarland, but I have a hard time believing the Steelers would not make an effort to at least keep him on the practice squad.

I had considered adding Jordan Byrd and Greg Bell here as well, but Byrd is listed as a wide receiver and returner on the Steelers roster, and Bell simply has too much competition to have any shot at all. If I were to guess, I would say Anthony McFarland, Jr. holds onto the RB3 spot, despite a late push from Xazavian Valladay.

Regardless of who wins the RB3 spot, it is encouraging to see that Pittsburgh has options behind Najee Harris. The days of Benny Snell are in the rearview mirror, and the change-of-pace options give contrast to what Jaylen Warren provides as the RB2. Things are trending up in the Steel City, and the running back position is a small reason why.

Who do you think should be the RB3 for the Steelers? Be sure to sign up for a free account here at FFSN and drop a comment down below with your thoughts!


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