Steelers likely to add to RB stable

| Saturday, April 21, 2012

All signs from Rashard Mendenhall's surgically repaired right knee to the relative inexperience behind him point to the Steelers selecting a running back in the NFL Draft.

Just don't expect it to happen Thursday night.

The position has lost its shine when it comes to the draft. This could be the second consecutive year that only one running back is taken in the first round; Alabama's Trent Richardson is the only lock.

Running backs have been seemingly marginalized, and even Steelers coach Mike Tomlin concedes an argument can be made that their value has decreased.

"That's a fair discussion," he said, "but I don't think that's the case for the running back position in our building."

The punishing nature of the position and the proliferation of passing are reasons NFL teams might think twice about drafting a running back early. Past drafts are also instructive when taking a big-picture look at the position.

The three running backs taken in the first round of the 2009 draft — Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown and Beanie Wells — have one 1,000-yard season among them. Arian Foster, signed as an undrafted free agent that year, is one of the top running backs in the NFL.

In 2004, a year in which eventual busts Chris Perry and Kevin Jones were selected in the first round, the Steelers signed Willie Parker as an undrafted free agent. Parker ranks third on the team's all-time rushing list (5,378 yards) and holds the record for the longest run (75 yards) in Super Bowl history.

Teams can make running back a priority and still find good to great ones after the first round.

The Ravens' Ray Rice, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy were second-round picks.

"There's so many good backs you can get later than in the first (round)," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "Why not go down a little bit further and get somebody worth two backs for the price of one?"

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert doesn't buy into that argument.

"Why would you lock yourselves in to not taking a great player because you think you could get a similar player down the road?" Colbert said. "I think that's where you make a mistake."

The position, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said, is among those the Steelers can't overlook during the three-day draft.

Mendenhall, a first-round pick in 2008, is recovering from a torn ACL, and the Steelers don't know when he will be ready to play. Isaac Redman is on rise, but the other running backs on the roster have a combined 25 carries.

The Steelers hosted Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead and Oregon's LaMichael James for predraft visits, and Tomlin has said the team will add at least one running back through the draft or free agency. A robust running game is significant to Tomlin because of its impact on both sides of the ball.

"It allows your defense to sit on the sideline, and a lot of great defenses spend a lot of time watching," Tomlin said. "It helps your play-action pass game. I think it feeds a lot of beasts."

Additional Information:

Take five

Here is a look at the top running backs on the Steelers' roster:

-- Rashard Mendenhall: Two-time 1,000-yard rusher likely to open season on physically unable to perform list after tearing ACL on Jan. 1

-- Isaac Redman: Rushed for 213 yards in final two games as feature back in 2011; general manager Kevin Colbert said Redman has to show he can play at that level for an entire season.

-- Jonathan Dwyer: Has produced when given an opportunity; third-year man is working his way back from foot injury that ended his 2011 season in December.

-- Baron Batch: Shined before tearing ACL in training camp; coach Mike Tomlin praised 2011 seventh-round pick for work he put into rehabilitating knee.

-- John Clay: Scored on first NFL carry; could be odd man out depending on running backs team adds through draft or free agency.

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