After cutting ties with Chris Rainey, allowing Rashard Mendenhall to walk away in free agency and tendering low offers to Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, it is clear that the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to change the running back position in a huge way for 2013.
They’ve brought in Beanie Wells, Ahmad Bradshaw and LaRod Stephens-Howling for visits in free agency as well. After finishing 26th in the NFL in rushing last season, they are leaving no stone unturned.
One move that would instantly upgrade the position in a big way would be drafting Wisconsin running back Montee Ball somewhere in the second or third round. This is a move Pittsburgh absolutely must make to ensure success in 2013.
Ball is one of the best running backs available in a draft full of excellent talent at the position. He brings a lot to the table and is versatile enough to be an every-down back. He is the NCAA’s all-time leader in total touchdowns, a scoring touch that should place him ahead of other running backs.
For Pittsburgh, this position restructuring is all about getting it right after Mendenhall, a first-round pick in 2008, never lived up to expectations in his five seasons with the team.
It's found out that Dwyer is a good piece that cannot carry the full load and that Redman is best suited to work on third downs or near the goal line because he’s able to either run the ball or catch it.
A player like Ball would fit in perfectly because he could assume the regular duties for 20-30 carries each game. Dwyer would then slide into the more-comfortable role of being the backup who can change things up when Ball needs a rest.
Redman would then compete for a third-down role with whoever else is brought in to fill out the roster.
Why Ball over another player?
The answer is simple.
Ball does everything well. He isn’t dominating in just one area. He can change styles to suit the situation.
Mendenhall’s calling card was that he was supposed to be a good cutback runner. Ball is better than Mendenhall ever was and could make the Pittsburgh offense devastatingly effective if the offensive line provides good blocks.
Ball doesn’t need a big hole, however. He’s big enough to pound his way through a small crack and get to the second level of the defense.
While Ball doesn’t necessarily have the breakaway speed of Willie Parker, he’s fast and has good instincts that make him a shifty player for the defense to cover.
Perhaps best of all, Ball is very difficult to bring down because he can keep his legs churning after contact. If not wrapped up properly, he won’t go down and will break the tackle and keep running.
The Pittsburgh Steelers cannot afford to miss on any pick in this draft. There are just too many holes on the roster. Running back is their greatest need because there are no good candidates on the roster for a starting job.
With that said, running back isn’t a first-round need. Even elite running backs can be found in the middle rounds. Ball projects as a late second or third-round pick. That’s the perfect spot for Pittsburgh to make the selection.
There are better-regarded runners in this draft like Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, but Ball is the player that best fits this team’s balanced offensive attack. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, which would give Ben Roethlisberger one more weapon when he drops back to throw.
Pittsburgh must make this move to be competitive in the ground game next season. There’s simply no better choice.