Jan 7, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Eddie Lacy (42) runs with the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half of the 2013 BCS Championship game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers must address running back situation in draft

With Chris Rainey now released following his arrest last week in Florida and Rashard Mendenhall likely having played his last game in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform, the team’s running back situation looks more dire by the day.

There is no debating the need for a legitimate featured back. The Steelers need one and clearly don’t have one on the roster.

December 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer (27) carries the ball against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Based on talent alone, Mendenhall is the Steelers best running back, but you can make the case that he’s not a feature guy. Neither is Jonathan Dwyer or Isaac Redman. Both guys are capable of coming in and providing a spark sometimes, but getting the job done on a consistent basis is another story altogether.

Going with either player in a featured role next season should not be an option. They are backups for a reason and that’s not a negative thing. Good teams need depth and both Dwyer and Redman provide that.

But good teams need a legitimate guy in the backfield as well and right now the Steelers don’t have that.

While there is no debating the need to upgrade the position, how the Steelers should go about addressing that need can be debated.

They won’t land a legitimate running back in free agency for two reasons.

The first of which is they can’t afford to do so, being over the salary cap at the moment. Secondly, there just aren’t many backs with that type of talent on the open market.

It is a thin class of running backs that includes Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, Shonn Greene and Peyton Hillis.

None of those guys are really what the Steelers need at the moment nor would they likely be able to fit in under the cap. Any other free agent is just a project that they would hope they get lucky with. That’s not the solution either.

There’s always the option for a potential trade, but that is as unlikely as signing a free agent, which brings me to the draft.

With the No. 17 pick, the Steelers could look to address the situation early in the draft, but they have other holes to fill as well.

However the running back class is pretty thin this year as well, so if the Steelers want a potential top guy, they may have to grab him early on.

Only two backs, North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard and Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, project as first-round picks. Then there are guys such as Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle, Rutgers’ Jawan Jamison and Stanford’s Stephan Taylor, all of whom project between the second and third round.

The Steelers have had some success plugging holes, so they could address the situation late in the draft, but then you get the same situation that you had this year with three or four players splitting carries.

It is time to get a back that they can lean on.

The Steelers have upgraded the offensive line and have four guys who were first- or second-round picks in Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro and Mike Adams. If they stay healthy then the line should be much improved.

Now it is time to get the running back to go with that offensive line.

The 2012 Steelers ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing and averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. That has to change in a big way next season.

Even though there are some other needs at the moment, a guy like Lacy would look really good running in a Steelers uniform.

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Tags: Chris Rainey Eddie Lacy Jonathan Dwyer Pittsburgh Steelers Rashard Mendenhall

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