GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Chris Rainey’s speed and versatility made him someone the Pittsburgh Steelers just couldn’t pass up.
The Steelers selected the former Florida running back in the fifth round (159th overall pick) of the NFL draft on Saturday, and coach Mike Tomlin is already thinking about the different ways he can use Rainey on offense and special teams.
"We, of course, are excited about his skill set,” Tomlin said on ESPN shortly after the selection. "We think that this guy is capable of helping us in a lot of ways: in the backfield, outside the backfield, in the return game."
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Rainey did all of that at Florida. He finished his career with 3,948 all-purpose yards (fourth in school history) and his 2,464 yards rushing is ninth on the school’s all-time list. He also holds the Southeastern Conference record with six blocked punts.
Rainey ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash on UF’s pro scout day and a 4.37 at the NFL combine, which makes him one of the fastest players in the draft. That versatility and speed, plus his ability to wiggle through tight spots and evade tacklers, is something the Steelers haven’t had in a player before.
"He’s an explosive player from the SEC," Tomlin said. "When you’re fast on SEC fields chances are you’re going to have a chance to be fast on the NFL fields."
Rainey told reporters in Pittsburgh he considers himself a running back first, but all he wants to do is get on the field, and he doesn’t care where.
“I can play running back. I can play slot. I can play special teams,” Rainey said, according to a transcript on the Steelers website. “Wherever they want me, because I’m a playmakers all around.”
The Steelers aren’t quite sure what they want Rainey to do yet. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley told reporters in Pittsburgh that will be determined once they get Rainey in camp, although he did compare Rainey to Chiefs running back/receiver Dexter McCluster. Haley was the Chiefs’ head coach from 2009-2011 and drafted McCluster out of Ole Miss in 2010.
“I think it’s easy to lump guys like that together, but that’s what he is,” Haley said, according to a transcript on the Steelers website. “He is a situational player when it comes to offense. It might be third down, it might be by package, you might see him as a receiver or as a running back, but you’ll see him do a little bit of everything.
“Obviously as we get to know him a little better we’ll be able to iron it out to exactly what his role will be.”
Rainey’s transition to the pro game should go pretty smoothly, too, because he’ll be reunited with former Florida teammates Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert, both of whom are starters on the Steelers’ offensive line. Rainey lived with Pouncey’s family while the two attended Lakeland (Fla.) High School.
"Great news for Chris Rainey," UF coach Will Muschamp said on Twitter. "Good for him to be around a bunch of former Gators, including his good friend Maurkice. Congrats."