Steelers position outlook: Running back

May, 21, 2014
May 21
1:00
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- This is the next in a series that takes a post-free agency, post-draft look at the all of the positions with the exception of quarterback.

Our third look is at a position that has two a pair of intriguing additions.

Running back

Williams
Blount
Who is new: LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer. A market that was anything but bullish for running backs allowed the Steelers to land the bruising Blount and at a bargain rate (two years for $3.85 million). They pretty much went to the other end of the running back spectrum when they drafted the small but speedy Archer in the third round. He stands just 5-8 and weighs 173 pounds but Archer ran the 40-yard dash in 4.26 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

Who is gone: Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Dwyer signed with the Cardinals shortly after the start of free agency and Jones remains unsigned. Stephens-Howling tore his ACL in the 2013 season opener and the drafting of Archer ended any chances of the Steelers re-signing the veteran scatback.

Returning starter: Le'Veon Bell. The second-round pick -- and second running back taken in the 2013 draft -- showed why the Steelers were so excited about him after just a couple of weeks of training camp. Bell broke Franco Harris' record for most yards from scrimmage by a rookie (1,259) despite missing the first three games with a foot injury. He also showed he is a back for every down given his polish as a receiver and willingness to block blitzing linebackers. Bell improved as a runner as he adjusted to the speed at this level and he has the patience and power to develop into a perennial 1,000-yard rusher.

Most significant addition: Blount. The 6-foot, 250-pounder gives the Steelers a proven back who can ease Bell's workload. Blount is also capable of handling the bulk of the carries if Bell misses any time because of an injury. The only question with Blount is how many carries he will receive with the Steelers committed to Bell and Archer also in the mix.

Most significant loss: Dwyer. He played his role well after re-signing with the Steelers last season, backing up Bell and also contributing on special teams. The Steelers, however, were clearly looking for an upgrade behind Bell and they appear to have gotten one in Blount.

On outside looking in: Alvester Alexander. The undrafted free agent spent the entire 2013 season on the practice squad, and he has his work cut out for him as far as convincing the Steelers to carry more than three running backs in 2014.

Hidden number: Of the 22 running backs who had more than 200 carries in 2013, only four had a lower yards per carry than the 3.5 yards Bell averaged on 244 carries.

Outlook: A position that had been a weakness through the first three games of 2013 has turned into a strength. Bell should only get better in his second season, and Archer offers a nice complement to him and Blount with his blazing speed. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers use Archer, whose versatility and pass-catching skills also allow him to play wide receiver.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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