The off-season additions at running back should pay dividends for the Steelers during the 2017 season and beyond.
As great as Le’Veon Bell is as a player, it’s no secret he has had issues staying on the field. His absence has stemmed from a combination of off-the-field troubles and injuries. Since 2015, Bell has missed a total of 17 regular-season games.
Bell’s issues away from the field are well-documented, as he was forced to serve three-game suspensions to start both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
The Steelers running back has also been unable to stay healthy. In 2015 — just six games after returning from suspension — Bell tore his MCL in a Week 8 match-up against the Bengals and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. He was also knocked out of last year’s AFC Championship game after injuring his groin in the first quarter.
Bell getting hurt in the AFC Championship was a wake up call for the Steelers. His injury forced the team to rely on a 34-year old, way-past-his prime Deangelo Williams to shoulder the load, and the offense suffered for it. That’s not a knock on Williams, but he is far better suited in a back-up role at this point in his career.
It was no surprise when the Steelers chose to address the running back position during the off-season. The team added Knile Davis through free agency and then selected Pittsburgh native James Conner in the third round of the NFL Draft.
Though his once-promising career has gone downhill a bit recently, Davis was a solid depth signing for Pittsburgh. The former Chiefs running back is still just 25-years old and has quality speed. He will most likely play a change-of-pace role in the offense, and can also provide value in the return game.
Conner, a former Pitt Panther, is already a fan-favorite in Pittsburgh. The Panthers play all of their home games at Heinz Field, so he should acclimate easily. He is a big, bruising, power back who will remind some people of Marshawn Lynch. He might make some of Bell’s fantasy owners upset, however, as he will most likely vulture a few goal-line carries.
The additions at running back will help reduce Bell’s workload and hopefully limit his potential for injury. They also provide insurance in case the All-Pro is forced to miss any games. Overall, the Steelers are in a much better position at running back than they were last season.