By Joel Deering
This morning I woke up to a notification saying Steelers fans are ripping on Le’Veon Bell because he announced the release of his rap EP on Twitter. I opened the notification to see how bad these comments towards Le’Veon really were. Let’s just say they weren’t good. Most of the comments had to do with Le’Veon not being focused on football, not caring about his team, and how they don’t care about his stupid rap song. One person even went as far as saying they hope he tears his ACL.
There was one comment that really sparked my interest. Someone said they’re glad Le’Veon won’t be on the Steelers anymore and the Steelers will win a Super Bowl without him because of the depth they have at running back. This got me thinking, “Can the Steelers survive without Le’Veon Bell”?
The next thing I did was go to the Steelers depth chart. Behind Le’Veon Bell right now the Steelers have six running backs. I’ll be honest, I’ve only heard of two of those running backs (James Conner and Stevan Ridley), and I’m guessing that’s the case for most NFL fans too. The other running backs on the Steelers roster are Jaylen Samuels, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jarvion Franklin, and James Summers. The reason most fans haven’t heard of Samuels, Franklin and Summers is because Samuels was drafted this year in the fifth round, while Franklin and Summers are both undrafted players. The reason why Fitzgerald Toussaint isn’t well known is because he hasn’t done much in the NFL over his four year career.
With Samuels, Tousaaint, Franklin, and Summers at running back, I wouldn’t consider the Steelers Super Bowl worthy. That leaves them with James Conner and Stevan Ridley. Ridley is the more experience NFL player so we’ll start with him. In seven NFL seasons, Ridley has a total of 3,022 rushing yards, 23 rushing TD’s, and a 4.2 yards per rush average. He’s had one season where he rushed for over 1,000 yards, but that season came back in 2012, which was his second NFL season. Ridley hasn’t played in 16 games since that season, which has led to a decrease in rushing yards almost every season since then. The only season since then where he’s increased his rushing yards, was from 2016 to last season when he went from seven yards in 2016 to 108 yards last year. Because of his lack of availability and production, especially over the last few seasons, I’ll rule out Ridley as a running back who can step in for Le’Veon Bell.
That leaves us with James Conner. Conner is going into his second NFL season. In his rookie year, Conner played in 14 games, but only got 32 carries. He did a pretty good job of making the most of those carries, gaining 144 yards with a 4.5 yards per rush average. Conner didn’t score a touchdown in his rookie year. We’ve only had a very small sample size of Conner in the NFL so far, but that sample looks fairly promising. I’m not saying Conner will replace the production of Le’Veon Bell, but if any of these running backs is going to, Conner has the best chance in my opinion.
Without Le’Veon Bell, I can see a similar running game to what the Dallas Cowboys had last year without Ezekiel Elliott. It wasn’t a bad running game, but it wasn’t great. The Cowboys running back by committee approach led to an average running game without their star player. Without Le’Veon, I can see it being that way for the Steelers, and that’s okay. The Steelers don’t need an elite running game to compete. They have arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, along with a quarterback who’s still pretty good in Ben Roethlisberger. The running game needs to be at least decent for the Steelers to compete, which I think they can do with their current running backs not named Le’Veon Bell.
For Steelers fans worried about the team without Bell, I wouldn’t worry too much. While it’s true their other running backs won’t replace his production, they should still be able to produce a decent running game and help the Steelers stay competitive in the AFC.