Prior to getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019, second-year running back Benny Snell Jr. was one of the most decorated running backs in college football history. In the history of the SEC conference, only he and the great Herschel Walker have rushed for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns in each of their first three collegiate seasons.
From the midpoint till the end of his rookie season, we saw glimpses of his potential. In week
seven, he rushed for 98 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals. Yet perhaps his best performance came in their final game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens, where he averaged over 5 yards per carry, and scored his team's only touchdown.
On Monday night against the New York Giants, Snell Jr. put together the best performance of his career. Entering the game in reserve for starting running back James Conner, Snell Jr. made the most of his opportunity, accumulating over 100 yards in a game for the first time in his career. For the Giants defense, they received a heavy dose of his physical, downhill running style which he labeled as "Benny Snell Football".
Patience And Vision
As much as he is defined by punishing opposing defenders with this orthodox, downhill style, Snell Jr.'s ability to see the field and allowing plays to unfold, are both undervalued qualities he possesses.
In this sequence late in the third quarter, the Steelers offense is seen using a 11 package, against the Giants defense using a modified 4-3 front. When the ball is snapped, the Steelers executes a counter with Matt Feiler (#71) as the pulling guard. Feiler does a good job locating and engaging, but the Giants linebacker does a good job standing Feiler up resulting in little to no room through the B-gap. Snell Jr. does a good job allowing Feiler seal his man inside just enough to find room outside. His patience is rewarded with a big gain and the first down.
One of the many reasons why Snell Jr. consistent productivity in this contest, was his ability to accelerate through open gaps without hesitation. As a traditional north-south runner, Snell Jr. has few reservations in taking the necessary contact for the sake of gaining additional yards.
In this sequence, the Steelers are showing a 11 package, as was seen in the previous clip. As Snell Jr. receives this hand-off, Feiler executes the counter perfectly, resulting in an open B-gap. Showing little hesitation, Snell accelerates through the open gap. Note how there is little lateral movement, but he makes a few moves to break free, resulting in a first down and more.
During the offseason, Snell Jr. took the initiative of trimming down his once 225-pound frame. This change resulted in greater acceleration and lateral movement, which was showcased in this contest.
In this sequence, the Steelers offense executes the same counter, this time using veteran lineman Stefen Wisniewski (#61) as the pulling guard. Snell Jr. delays just enough to allow Wisniewski to seal his defender. Snell Jr. proceeds to accelerate through the B-gap, then increases his speed to find the edge, while passing the Giants defensive back in the process. The end result was a 30-yard gain, extending the drive and eventually ending with the touchdown that sealed the win.
As it stands, James Conner is the team's starting running back. Yet in his absence, the Steelers offense excelled behind Snell Jr.'s ability to consistently move the chains. His efforts against the Giants resulted in an increase in time of possession, which was an important factor in their victory. From a roster standpoint, Snell Jr. is the team's backup running back; however, from a performance standpoint, he proved that he is more than capable of taking over if the opportunity presents itself.