With the news that Rashard Mendenhall "could" start the 2012 season on the PUP list, and/or could be hindered in 2012 by his late-season ACL tear...most of the questions into me as of late, have been surrounding the various individual depth chart Steelers RB possibilities. To answer that question, let's go through the Steelers options in no particular order:
Isaac Redman is the most obvious "next up." The problem with that is, if the Steelers are a serious contender for 2012...there is no way that the Steelers will just willingly turn the running game over to Redman. The main reason is talent; Redman just isn't that spectacular. Like many NFL RBs, Redman is useful in a pinch...a nice relief RB, but not a workhorse that can be a game-changer (our opinion). Redman could be in the mix for 2012 carries...but there is little chance that he is a 200-250+ carry RB in 2012. That being said, you now have peak value on Isaac Redman if you own him in a Dynasty League...now is the time to extract max-value on a trade-away; if all possible.
Actually, I don't feel that the Steelers 200+ carry RB is on the roster at the moment. Let's look at this from the "smart" Steelers standpoint.
One of the NFL teams that I most admire on personnel decision making ability, is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Time, and time again...they outthink, recycle, find sleepers, and avoid media hype players. No franchise's personnel decisions are always perfect, but the Steelers may be the best in the business. That being said, Rashard Mendenhall is an unrestricted free agent in 2013...and dealing with a major 2012 injury. Mendenhall isn't even 25 years old yet (will be in June), so there should be "tread left on the tire" in theory. However, given the ACL injury, given Mendenhall's past embarrassing public commentaries, and most importantly -- given the trend that the RB position is becoming a low need position, with plenty of supply to meet the demand...I'm not sure the Steelers are going to make a strong move for Mendenhall in 2013. If Mendenhall is sketchy for 2012, and he could be allowed to walk in 2013...the Steelers cannot feel secure about the RB position "as is."
A move that would not shock me, a player who would fit the "Steelers-way," a RB that has an AFC North mentality/style, and a RB that could be part of a duo if Mendenhall is fully recovered, and under contract...is Mike Tolbert. I don't see the Steelers spending a ton on a flashy, overpriced RB this offseason...but a Mike Tolbert could be a huge bargain. Tolbert has proven NFL skills/productivity...and is flying under the free agent radar right now. He is a Steelers type of bargain, if the price stays lower...and the Steelers are planning on a non-Mendenhall long-term future.
Without a Mike Tolbert-type signing this offseason, or even if so...the Steelers could draft a RB 3rd-5th round this year. When the Steelers draft any position, the odds go up that it is the right call...and there are always plenty of mid-round/late-round/undrafted RBs available each NFL Draft that out-produce the expensive 1st-Round type RBs.
If the Steelers add a Tolbert, and/or draft cleverly (as usual)...Isaac Redman's Dynasty Fantasy Football value sits at an all-time high right now.
The Steelers also have other options to consider. In 2011, the Steelers drafted a RB in the 7th-Round that our computer scouting models really liked -- Baron Batch. Batch injured his knee in training camp, and was lost for the 2011 season. Batch is obviously a risk coming off this type of injury, but is one to watch (if healthy) in this whole post-Mendenhall fallout for 2012. For more info on Batch, see a 2011 NFL Draft piece we did -- Baron Batch Rookie RB — the Pittsburgh Steelers “Out-Scout” Everyone…as Usual | Fantasy Football Metrics – RC Fischer Blog
We do not like Jonathan Dwyer at all. Dwyer graded as one of the physically worst RB prospects that we have ever analyzed. Dwyer measured slow, non-agile, small handed, and a higher probability injury-risk...other than that, he's awesome. Dwyer was a top performer for Georgia Tech, but keep in mind that was in a wishbone type offense...the NFL saw right through that as Dwyer plummeted from an early 2nd-Round RB mock draft prospect in 2010...to an actual mid 6th-Round selection. Dwyer has looked better in the NFL, since he has cut some weight...but I'm going to trust the computer on this one until proven otherwise. I'm not pursuing Dwyer, no matter what the underground media chatter theorizes on it.
John Clay is a harder RB prospect to gauge right now. Clay is a massive 6'0+, 230-pound RB that was a huge producer for Wisconsin from 2008-10 (3,413 yards rushing in 3 seasons, with 41 TDs). At one time expected to be a higher 2011 NFL Draft selection, but wound up losing his final 3 games of 2011 with an MCL injury...leading to an extremely slow 40-time (4.83) at the NFL Combine, and thus Clay went undrafted. Clay was moved up to the active roster late in 2011, actually grabbed 11 carries late in the season for the Steelers. Clay is intriguing for Fantasy Football if he heals, and can improve upon his foot speed. Don't be shocked if Clay winds up as a part of an RB tandem, as the short-yardage "pounder." If the word from training camp starts up that Clay is looking quicker than ever, etc...use caution, but heed the potential if he actually is faster (post-injury) than his 2011 NFL Combine data showed. He would be a Mike Tolbert type RB (minus the ability in the passing game).
The Steelers are smart, and like the Patriots and Packers...I think that they will be comfortable moving toward a cheaper RB-tandem going-forward. It's the smart business move in the NFL. It just so happened that they were able to land an elite-talent like Mendenhall in 2008, so it made sense to ride that train. Now that the train is derailed, I don't think the Steelers will hit the panic button, they will do what they always do...make a great middle of the draft selection, or find that hidden gem undrafted free agent, or sign an available RB on the cheap.
Select a position from the tabs below to see stats and scouting information for that respective position.