Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

The Steelers running back situation doesn’t have to be set in stone

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a good problem on their hands, as it pertains to their running backs. After selecting Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the organization lucked into undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA) Jaylen Warren in 2022. Both players have proven they are capable in their own way, and yet fans aren’t interested in them sharing carries.

They want a clear-cut RB1 and RB2.

While having two quality players is better than just one, a collection of fans would rather the Steelers do what many bemoaned about Mike Tomlin teams and have a bell cow back. A ball carrier who was an every down back and never left the field. The perfect example was Le’Veon Bell’s tenure with the team, until Bell eventually got hurt and the team was left with hardly anything behind him in terms of depth.

Now, the Steelers have two viable options at running back, yet fans want the team to declare a RB1. If I’m being honest, many fans want that RB1 to be Warren, and not the team’s top draft pick in 2021.

But why?

That is a difficult question to answer, but I would bet good money the majority of fans who are against Najee Harris are also the fans who hated the thought of the team taking a running back in Round 1 of any draft, especially with other needs they felt were more pressing. On top of that, Harris hasn’t had that breakout season where even fans who were skeptical of the selection warmed up to his overall potential. Plenty of fans see his career 3.9 yards per carry and feel that is below the proverbial line for a 1st Round pick.

Throw in Jaylen Warren’s slashing and explosive style, not to mention his 62-yard touchdown run on Saturday night vs. the Buffalo Bills, and fans are starting to wonder if Warren might be the better option for the team as the top back of the duo.

I’m not here to try and talk anyone out of their current thought process, but answer this one question if you believe the Steelers should focus on one back as their primary back.

Why not use both?

Think back to Harris’ rookie season when he carried the load for the offense. What was the overall narrative following the season? The team needs to find someone to help alleviate some of the workload.

Enter Jaylen Warren last year, and suddenly a sect of the fan base wants to go back to the overload philosophy. To me, this is something which is worth discussing, but the answer is clear. Use them both. If Najee Harris had 75% of the carries in 2022, maybe that number goes to 60-65% in 2023 with Warren seeing more carries/touches.

This wouldn’t just keep both players healthy, it would also give the offense a dynamic it has lacked the past two seasons. Warren’s big play ability combined with the bruising style of Harris could provide a very intriguing dynamic to the running game. Some say “thunder and lightning” while I just say “do what works best for the team”.

The Steelers running back situation doesn’t have to be black-and-white, nor does it have to be a depth chart which is chiseled in stone. Instead, it should be fluid and a good mix between the two ball carriers.

Will that happen? I foresee Harris getting the vast majority of the carries, with Warren seeing more and more time as the season progresses. Then again, nothing is every guaranteed with the Steelers offense.

I spoke about this at length on my Monday “Let’s Ride” podcast, which can be heard in the player below. Check it out, and let me know what you think in the comment section below. As always, stay tuned to SCN for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the preseason finale Thursday night.

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