When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Jonathan Dwyer in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the thought was that he could possibly work his way up to being the top back behind starter Rashard Mendenhall. There was even some thought that he could be more than just a backup.
To this point, that has never panned out as Dwyer has been mostly an afterthought in Pittsburgh due, first to poor conditioning, then to injury and overall to sheer numbers on the roster.
That looks likely to change in 2012, however. As Dwyer enters his third season with the Steelers, he is one of the many players being looked at behind presumptive starter Isaac Redman.
I say presumptive starter because there are no guarantees from Mike Tomlin or Todd Haley that Redman is definitely the starter. Everyone is preparing that way, but surprises have changed the landscape before and may do so again.
Dwyer’s top competition will be from Redman (if you believe or think there can be a competition for the top gig) and Baron Batch, a second year player returning from a nasty injury sustained in training camp last season.
If you don’t subscribe to open competition, Batch is the player to watch out for in this year’s camp. He’s a little more speedy and versatile than Dwyer, and he brings a receiving skill set that puts me in mind of a younger, faster Mewelde Moore.
Dwyer’s Skill Set
Dwyer’s a fireplug back. He’s got a low center of gravity, and he can grind through the line. He doesn’t have prototypical size for a goal line back or someone who can grind out those short yardage carries, but he has good instincts.
He has a single 100-yard effort to his name. That came on 11 carries, and he netted 107 yards in last season’s Week 5 contest versus the Tennessee Titans. That’s a glimpse of what he can do against a decent defensive front.
So where do we project this guy?
I think that Baron Batch will be the team’s third down back. His skills lend themselves to that more so than anything that Dwyer can do. He’s more suited to that role. So let’s focus elsewhere.
There are no guarantees on Rashard Mendenhall’s recovery, and I think the Steelers will be careful with him as he tries to return from an ACL injury in last year’s finale. So let’s keep him out of the picture for now since we have no idea what he can and will do.
Isaac Redman will likely earn the starting job, and his hold on it will likely be determined by Dwyer’s work as his top relief. I don’t think Redman will carry the ball as often as Mendenhall has done. Todd Haley will mix things up some, and Redman appears to be better for a tandem role.
Dwyer can be the other half of that tandem. They’re similar backs, and they can be used to hammer opposing defenses behind an improved offensive line. The Steelers won’t run the ball as often as a smashmouth team does, but they figure to use the run differently than they have in previous years.
I’d project Dwyer to get at least 100 carries and to have the capacity to put up around 400 or 500 yards. Those numbers go up if he starts to become the more frequently used half of the tandem.
One thing is for sure, it will be an interesting thing to watch unfold.