Three years is enough of a sample to determine what a player can offer in the NFL. Not much is the answer for Steelers running back Benny Snell.
I have to be honest: I don’t understand the Benny Snell talk coming out of Kentucky at all. Fans went crazy when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Snell in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They watched Snell climb up the throats of SEC defenses and thought he had a chance to be a workhorse for the Steelers.
I’ve never been impressed by it. While he was a young, successful running back in college, I wasn’t a fan of his traits. Snell ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Combine to go along with a 29 1/2-inch height and overall very subpar athleticism. This lack of speed and explosiveness was not a recipe for success.
Unsurprisingly, this is what we’ve come to see from him in the NFL. In his first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Snell carried the ball 255 times for just 892 yards, per Pro Football Reference — a pedestrian average of 3.5 yards per carry. Additionally, he managed just 15 receptions in three NFL seasons.
Last year, some predicted that he would improve as he came off the bench to write Najee Harris every now and then. This was not the case at all. The 2021 season was Snell’s worst to date. In fact, he finished near the bottom of the league in efficiency among running backs with at least 20 carries last season, Football Outsider reported.
In the first half of 2022 Steelers training camp, we’ve seen a lot. Although Harris has been getting first-team reps as he works his way back from a minor leg injury, Snell hasn’t been entirely impressive. Meanwhile, Anthony McFarland and undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren have been much better in camp.
Snell should not be guaranteed a spot on the Steelers roster
Many predicted that Benny Snell’s spot on the Steelers’ roster was already locked up. While I don’t know if he’ll go that far, the fact that he’s been given plenty of opportunities in the offense since the start of Steelers training camp is a good indication that Pittsburgh plans to keep him. But should they?
I know Snell was used a lot on special teams last year (326 snaps, to be exact). It was this usage that got him locked up for another spot this year. However, when it came to offense, he didn’t offer what a replacement-level running back couldn’t, and his efficiency was near the bottom of the league during that stretch.
While Snell continued to look like a slow running back at Steelers training camp, there were at least two backs that were very impressive. Anthony McFarland caught my eye this year in Latrobe with his explosiveness, flexibility and top-end speed. As a running back and receiver, I think he’s been the best overall back in camp so far.
Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren has turned heads with his vision and ability to hit the hole hard and run. At 5’8” and 215 pounds, he’s an aggressive breeder with a low center of gravity. Warren doesn’t have top-end speed, but he’s still faster and faster than Snell.
At the end of the day, the decision to keep Benny Snell for the final year of his rookie contract will likely come down to his ability to contribute on special teams. The Steelers like that he’s a big-bodied back who plays hard — even if it means he doesn’t offer much else.
Personally, I’d like to be done with the Benny Snell experiment at this point. He hasn’t provided much on offense in his first three seasons, and that won’t change in 2022.