Updated: Jul 8, 2021
In many ways, running back Benny Snell Jr. was an enigma in his rookie season.
Every so often, we saw flashes of a player with starter potential, then at times he underwhelmed in such a way that his value was put into question. What can be said about the Pittsburgh Steelers after this past season, is that they are in dire need of a healthy, productive running back that can turn around a rushing offense, that has been among the worst in the NFL the last few seasons.
Since the departure of former All-Pro running back Le'veon Bell, they have yet to find consistency at that position. James Conner for instance, has been plagued by injuries each since his rookie year. In 2019, he played a career-low 10 games due to various injuries, and only produced. Jaylen Samuels finished with a dismal 175 rushing yards in 14 games, yet displayed his true value as an h-back rather than a pure running back.
Snell Jr. finished his rookie season with 426 yards, and in the process displayed the form which once made him one of the most decorated running backs in college football history. More notably, his performances towards the end of the 2019 season, could be a sign for better things to come.
More Defenders Equals Better Production
Simply put, Snell Jr is at his best when he meets contact. When reviewing his numbers against a stacked front, his efficiency increases by a considerable margin.
This past season, Snell Jr. faced against a stacked front (eight or more defenders in the box), in over 49% of his carries. In these cases, Snell Jr. posted an impressive 4.1 yards per carry, which placed him in the top tier for running backs in this category. Conversely, when facing a lighter defensive front (six or less defenders in the box), Snell was surprisingly less effective, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Considering that 301 of his 426 rushing yards this past season came after contact, it is clear that more defenders in front of him, leads leading to greater production.
Benny Snell The Receiver
Snell Jr. is generally not known for his receiving abilities. In his three years with the University of Kentucky, Snell Jr. contributed a total of 216 receiving yards. Yet when given the chance to catch the ball, Snell Jr. makes very few mistakes.
This past season, he was targeted four times in which he made three receptions for 23 yards. His overall catch rate of 75% may not seem like much considering the minimal amount of targets, but it possibly reveals a potential dimension of his game that could him even more valuable.
By nature, Snell Jr. is a hard-nosed, old school type runner that thrives on contact. Yet an aspect that does not get nearly enough attention, is his ability to avoid tackles. Though he is a physical runner that builds off of contact, he was relatively effective at making defenders miss this this past season.
In 2019, he posted 4 breakaway runs, the majority of them coming after a series of carries where he would build up from short gains. His 24 evaded tackles came as a surprise considering the nature of his running style. The biggest surprise was his juke rake of 21.6% As noted, Snell Jr. is not adept at moving laterally, so this number is very promising.
Snell Jr is no doubt a work in progress. Yet from the sample size we received this season, he has the potential of being highly productive if given more opportunities. For a team in need for consistent production at the running back position, Snell Jr. may have found himself in the place, at the right time to show that he can be that guy to lead the way.