The Steelers head into the 2016 season with their eyes set on a seventh Lombardi trophy. In order to achieve their goal, the team’s offensive unit is going to have to be the juggernaut it’s been for the past couple of seasons. The Steelers have an abundance of talent and skill on offense, but lack a bit of depth. We’ve already looked at the offensive line in the very first season preview, so we’ll move on and look at the backfield of the Steelers’ offense.
Projected Depth Chart:
RB1: Le’Veon Bell (suspended 3 games)
RB2: DeAngelo Williams
RB3: Fitzgerald Toussaint
FB1: Roosevelt Nix
Atop the running back depth chart is arguably the best all-around back in the league in Le’Veon Bell. He can run you over, juke, or even hurdle you. His patience and vision are second-to-none, and he’s a superb check down target for the quarterback. He’s pretty good in pass protection as well. He really is the elite package…on the field. Bell has had his issues off the field, which has put the Steelers in a need for depth behind him to start last season and this upcoming season as well. Bell served a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy two years ago, and got into trouble again this year for missing multiple drug tests, for which Bell will sit the first three games of this season. Bell also has been bit by the injury bug in his career. He missed the first few games of his rookie year in 2013 nursing an injury suffered in training camp. In 2014, he broke out and had a healthy season until the season finale against Cincinnati where he was hit in the knee and missed the playoff game the following week, which the Steelers lost. Last year, he missed the first two games serving his suspension, then played six games, then was out for the rest of the year after a tackle from Vontaze Burfict sidelined Bell with a torn MCL. Bell looks as healthy as can be in training camp and preseason, so hopefully the injury bug has packed up and moved on out of Pittsburgh.
DeAngelo Williams was signed last offseason to give some depth behind Le’Veon Bell, especially knowing about Bell’s imminent suspension. Williams played very well in the first two games filling in for Bell, and played well in the games after Bell went out for the year. Williams went on to score 11 rushing touchdowns, tying for the most in the NFL in 2015. Williams is a veteran back who also has great vision and a great ability to jump cut through defenders. At the age of 33, even considering most of his career was a time share in Carolina, you have to begin to wonder if his age will begin to show. It didn’t last year, and hopefully, Bell stays healthy and the Steelers won’t have to rely on Williams as heavily.
Fitzgerald Toussaint will make the team as the third running back and hopefully won’t have to get too many snaps this season. He served nicely in the playoffs last year after Bell and Williams went down with injuries. Toussaint’s biggest blunder in his limited playing time was the fumble he surrendered in the Divisional Playoff against the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Toussaint lacks the ability to break long runs, but is a serviceable third running back.
Roosevelt Nix has been primarily a special teams player during his tenure in Pittsburgh. He’s the only fullback on the Steelers’ roster, but probably won’t get too many snaps out of the backfield. The Steelers hardly use a fullback in Todd Haley’s playbook. Nix pretty much just needs to be a solid blocker and catch the occasional pass out of the backfield.
When healthy, the Steelers have an elite group of running backs. Bell is elite on his own, Williams is good enough to be a starter on some of the other teams in the league, and Toussaint is a serviceable third back. It’s a contract year for Le’Veon Bell, so I expect a big year from him. According to one of his rap songs, he wants a contract getting paid $15 million per year, and with his off the field issues, he’s going to have to have the 13 games of his life, win MVP, and put a Super Bowl trophy on top of that before teams fathom paying him that kind of money. If he has that kind of year, a seventh Lombardi trophy isn’t far from reality.
Preseason Grade: A