Earlier this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers let James Conner walk in free agency. The 25-year-old had started at running back for the organization for the last three seasons, but ultimately didn't live up to expectations.
Although Conner's departure marks somewhat of a setback for the Steelers, it also clears the way for the AFC North franchise to implement a specific plan at the 2021 NFL Draft.
According to a recent report from Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers intend to draft a running back "no later than the second" round last this month. With Conner no longer on the roster, Pittsburgh desperately needs a lead ballcarrier to resuscitate a running game that ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards (1,351) and yards per carry (3.6).
Here's more from Dulac's report:
"The last step was changing the personnel, and it started with Conner, a three-year starter whose contract expired after the season. It will end on draft day. The Steelers appear to be content with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland Jr. as backups, possibly even Kalen Ballage, who was signed in free agency. But they want a more dynamic feature back, a player who can put back in the offense a dimension that has been missing since the departure of Le’Veon Bell. They will do that in the draft, most likely in the first round, no later than the second."
The Steelers already made changes on the coaching staff, so drafting a rookie ballcarrier will be the last personnel move needed to complete the overhaul. Former quarterbacks coach Matt Canada was elevated to be the team's new offensive coordinator and has already stressed the importance of a balanced offense.
Pittsburgh should have its choice of the top running back prospects when the draft rolls around in less than two weeks. Alabama’s Najee Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and UNC's Javonte Williams are all intriguing options for the Steelers at the No. 24 pick.