The Steelers entered the offseason with depth chart questions at running back. Le’Veon Bell has never finished a season healthy, and Mike Tomlin has admitted over-use may have been a part of the issue. However, the roster was bare behind Bell. Former backup DeAngelo Williams is a free agent and has debated retirement. This left the team with just Fitzgerald Toussaint as the backup. Toussaint has had to be an emergency running back before, and Steelers nation surely remembers that it did not go as planned when he had to start in the playoffs against the Denver Broncos. The Steelers felt just as uneasy about Toussaint as the fans did, though. A player who entered the off-season as the backup to the best running back in the league now gets ready for training camp with his roster spot on the line.
Fitzgerald Toussaint Roster Spot is Getting Hot
The Steelers made two running back moves this off-season. They drafted James Conner from Pitt and signed Knile Davis of the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. Stylistically, Conner is the power back, and Davis is the change of pace, receiving type of back. To compare Toussaint and Conner is tough. The role of a power back was much needed and Conner is the perfect fit. Third and ones and goal line situations that may have tired down Bell can now go to Conner and give Bell the breather he has hardly received with Williams on the roster. That role is one Toussaint was never going to fill. In that sense, Conner will be the true backup to Le’Veon Bell.
That leaves the third running back spot for Toussaint, the incumbent, and Davis, the challenger. Both run in a similar style and would play a similar role, but Davis should have the upper hand here.
The first nod to Davis comes down to the Steelers history with free agents. This team does not sign a player without the idea that he will be making the 53-man roster. In fact, since Kevin Colbert has been a key decision maker with the team, the Steelers have signed 65 players in the off-season. Only four were not active for a single game with the Steelers. When they sign a player it is because they see a need on a team and see an upgrade in the player.
With that said, it is easy to see the team wanted to upgrade. As mentioned, the two have similar roles, Davis just does his better in every sense. While Toussaint has a limited sample size, being active for 25 games compared to 57 for Davis, Davis only has two more starts than Toussaint. Still, Davis averages 3.9 yards per attempt compared to 2.9 for Toussaint. Davis has a slightly better catch rate and averages 14.1 rushing yards and 4.8 receiving yards per game compared to 4.5 rushing yards and 2.4 receiving yards per game than Toussaint.
While Davis is a better depth option as a running back, adding only ten yards per game is likely not why the team signed Davis. Davis, like Toussaint, is a kick return option. Similarly to running behind the offensive line, Davis is also a better option in the special teams game as well. Davis has returned 73 kicks and has averaged 26.8 yards per return with two touchdowns. On the flip side, Toussaint has averaged 21.3 yards per return on 15 attempts and has yet to take one to the house.
The look the Steelers got with Toussaint was brief. It shows with only 15 return attempts and 32 rushing attempts over the past 21 games. However, this can speak to the Steelers not necessarily having faith in Toussaint to deserve any more attempts. Davis has more experience, he plays a similar role, and he has taken advantage of brief stints and opportunities in a better way. With depth and competition at cornerback, wide receiver and linebacker it is extremely tough to envision the Steelers carrying more than three running backs. It looks like Toussaint will be on the wrong side of the roster when training camp starts, and this season it will be on him to win his roster spot back.