On paper, the Pittsburgh Steelers don't seem to have a particularly gaping hole at the running back spot. Fourth-year rusher Rashard Mendenhall is just 24 years old and is coming off consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Fan favorite Issac Redman rushed for 4.8 yards per carry in limited action last year and added two scores through the air. And the Steelers' seventh-rounder, Baron Batch out of Texas Tech, has the skill set to be Mewelde Moore's successor on third down.
Yet I can't help but think Atlanta Falcons running back Jason Snelling would look really, really good in black and gold.
Snelling, 27, hasn't had a lot of opportunities to showcase his talents during his professional career, but every time Falcons starter Michael Turner has needed to catch his breath on the sideline or visit the trainers' room, Snelling has been productive in an unflashy, workmanlike fashion. This was especially true in 2009, when Turner sprained an ankle and Snelling delivered 551 rushing yards at 4.3 yards per attempt in games where he had seven or more carries.
In addition to being a patient, bruising, just-fast-enough rusher, Snelling is a great receiver out of the backfield - he has 74 receptions over the last two seasons, for 562 yards and four scores. Snelling also excels in blitz pickup off the edge. This makes him a great fit if Pittsburgh doesn't want to shell out the cash to keep Moore, who will be 29 when the season starts. Besides, the Steelers can't take for granted that Batch will be ready for a role in the NFL.
Simply put, Snelling can produce at halfback. Just look at the video from his career day against the Arizona Cardinals from last year, where he dismantled the defensive front inside, outside, and through the air.
But I haven't even gotten to the really cool part yet: Snelling can play fullback, too. At 223 pounds, he may appear a bit undersized for the role, yet he's always had success as the lead blocker during his college days at Virginia or in Atlanta when Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli was banged up.
The Steelers haven't had a competent fullback in a few of seasons, and their lack of short-yardage success is perhaps symptomatic of that. Snelling provides flexibility if youngsters like Batch or Jonathan Dwyer prove worthy of a roster spot. He adds depth, versatility, and a track record of production to the Steelers' young stable of runners.
What concerns me most about Snelling isn't how he fits into the Steelers roster, it's that the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, or Washington Redskins could promise bigger money or a more prominent role.
Snelling has said that he would like to stay in Atlanta and wants "more influence in the offense" next year, too. But the Falcons already have Mughelli and drafted Jacquizz Rodgers out of Oregon State in the fifth round.
Furthermore, the crop of free agent halfbacks this year is rich enough that Snelling could fall right into Pittsburgh's lap. Mel Kiper recently rated Snelling as the ninth-best back in free agency. If teams around the league concur with that assessment, Snelling could be the kind of sneaky-good acquisition Mewelde Moore was three offseasons ago.
Snelling can lead block on first and second down, pass protect and catch the ball on third, and fill in with Redman if Mendenhall is tired or injured. Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced. Snelling would look really good in a Steelers uniform.