Wednesday, February 06, 2013

A Running Back or Two for the Steelers?

The Steelers need to find a running back -- a good running back -- this off-season.

Former Steeler running back Dick Hoak
Most observers believe the Steelers are unlikely to invest their first-round draft pick in a running back this year. There have been too many examples of first-round running backs out-performed by later-round picks or undrafted free agents like Arian Foster and Willie Parker.

Take last year's draft, for example, when the Redskins drafted.Alfred Morris in the sixth round; former Bronco Terrell Davis (2,000 yards) was a sixth-rounder; and, in the 1990 draft, the Steelers drafted Barry Foster, was also a sixth-rounder.

That 1990 draft will be remembered for other reasons (cue ominous music in background here). That year, the Steelers owned the 17th overall pick, which is what they have this year. 

Steeler fans might remember the 1990 draft because of how the Steelers handled that 17th overall pick.

Pittsburgh traded down in that first round -- the 17th overall pick, same as this year -- the Steelers traded that 17th overall pick in 1990 to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for rights to two later draft choices.  Pittsburgh turned those draft choices into tight end Eric Green (1st round, 21st overall) and defensive tackle Craig Veasey (3rd round, 81st overall).  

What did Dallas do with the pick they received from the Steelers?  The Cowboys turned that pick -- No 17 overall, same as this year for the Steelers -- Dallas turned that pick into running back Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time rushing leader, a Hall of Famer, and the only running back to ever win a Super Bowl championship, the NFL Most Valuable Player award, the NFL rushing crown, and the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award all in the same season (1993).

Is Eddie Lacy the next Emmitt Smith?

Maybe; maybe not. Well, almost certainly not.

Instead of drafting a running back in the first round, maybe the Steelers would do better to spend a later-round draft choice on a running back like Le'Veon Bell (6'2", 244, Michigan State), Jawan Jamison (5'8", 200, Rutgers), Ray Graham (5'9", 192, Pitt) or D.J. Harper (5'9", 205, Boise State).

Who knows? They might discover the next Barry Foster or, for that matter, the next Arian Foster. On the other hand, by passing on a running back at No. 17, they may miss out on the next Emmitt Smith.  It's a crap shoot, but in today's NFL, some people would contend that running backs are fungible commodities.

Whomever they bring in, the Steelers need to find somebody who will be able to fit the new zone-blocking scheme being implemented by new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr. That scheme usually suits one-cut, between-the-tackles runners with good vision and the ability to make quick decisions, bust through tackles and get into the secondary fast -- which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like Eddie Lacy.

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