Another in a position-by-position series examining the Steelers roster in advance of the start of free agency on March 10:*
(Free Agent Scorecard at the position: 1 unrestricted free agent – Ben Tate; 1 restricted free agent – Will Johnson)
What had begun with such promise ended in disappointment, with all of the hopes that Archer could contribute to the offense and special teams with his dynamic speed never being realized. Not even close. Forget the statistics, and the playing time, and everything else. First things first – Archer has to show he belongs in the NFL. Maybe he is too small. Maybe this occupation just isn't for him. This is what must be figured out this offseason, and it will start with him.
Photos of the Steelers Running Backs during the 2014 season.
A true breakout season for this second-year pro, who continues to become a better player and professional. Bell's skills have evolved so quickly and to the degree that he deserves to be in every conversation about the best all-around running backs in football. Run it, catch it, block. Bell does it all. Based on his 2014, Bell can expect much more concentrated attention from opposing defenses, and so this offseason should be spent preparing for the kinds of challenges such attention will bring. Bell was voted first-team All-Pro in his second NFL season. That's quite an accomplishment, but he also is capable of better seasons.
When he first showed up for training camp at Saint Vincent College, he was nobody from nowhere, and that might still have been his lot had LeGarrette Blount not quit on the team back in mid-November. That set in motion a series of events ending with Harris getting the most carries of any Steelers back in the playoff loss to the Ravens. Harris didn't embarrass himself in that appearance, but nor did he stamp himself as a clear-cut choice for the backup job in 2015.
One of Mike Tomlin's favorites sayings goes, "I know what you're capable of, but what are you willing to do?" Johnson is one of the willing, and his job entails a lot of blocking and special teams duty. There have been times when his on-field actions have indicated he can be more than just that, but so far those opportunities haven't come on a consistent basis. And to be clear, it isn't easy coming out of a three-point stance, locating a defensive player, and clearing him out of the hole for the trailing running back. Johnson does that consistently.
It had the feel of a short-term rental when the Steelers signed him just days before the Wild Card Round. Maybe that turns out to be the case. Or maybe Tate accepts a minimum contract to be Bell's backup after coming to the realization that the only job available here is to be Le'Veon Bell's No. 2. I'm thinking more along the lines of short-term rental.