Teams continue to sign players to reserve/futures contracts, allowing the organization to retain (routinely) young, practice squad players throughout the offseason. Here are the latest reserve/futures contracts:
Boone has been out since Week 7 with an ankle injury; the Broncos have three weeks to activate him. Signed in 2021, Boone has played a third-string role for most of his time in Denver. But Melvin Gordon‘s fumbling problem persisting led to some increased work before the ankle malady. The Broncos have three injury activations remaining.
The Steelers had a number of difficult decisions to make leading up to the 53-man roster deadline, including the status of Mason Rudolph. The team ended up holding on to the quarterback, but the front office still had to cut a number of players to get to the roster limit:
Marcus Allen, a 2018 fifth-round pick, appeared in 33 games for Pittsburgh over the past four seasons. Justin Layne was a 2019 third-round pick by the Steelers, with the majority of his 43 appearances coming on special teams. Anthony McFarland was also a former Steelers draft pick, while Trent Scott was brought in this offseason to compete for an OL spot. Joe Haeg started two of his 12 appearances for the Steelers in 2021.
Henry Mondeaux spent the past two seasons in Pittsburgh, getting into 26 total games (two starts). After mostly seeing a special teams role during his rookie campaign, the defensive tackle saw more opportunities on defense in 2021, finishing with 16 tackles and two sacks. Buddy Johnson was a fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft. The linebacker got into four games as a rookie, collecting two tackles. Carlos Davis was a seventh-round pick by the Steelers in 2020. The defensive tackle collected 11 tackles in 11 games.
There aren’t many questions surrounding the Steelers’ approach to the running back position. As a rookie last season, Najee Harris put forth a workload worthy of a Pro Bowl selection and accounted for around 75% of Pittsburgh’s rush attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. While that may not sound overwhelming, the next closest player, Benny Snell Jr., only accounted for about 8% of the team’s rush attempts and 6% of the team’s rushing yards. Despite the seemingly small contribution, Snell is still the favorite to back up Harris next season, according to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly.
The Steelers’ offensive backfield doesn’t have a ton of experience. The oldest running back on their roster, Trey Edmunds, 27, has never started a game, has 31 career carries, and hasn’t had a carry since November 2019. Every other running back on the roster is 24 years old or younger. After Kalen Ballage announced he was stepping away from the NFL to coach, Pittsburgh’s roster only holds three running backs who had carries for the Steelers in the 2021 season: Harris, Snell, and Anthony McFarland Jr. After them and Edmunds, the only backs on the roster are two undrafted rookies: Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren.
McFarland currently has too small a sample size to depend on. During his two years in the league, McFarland has played in 13 games, carrying the ball 36 times for 116 yards. Last year, he only appeared in two games. He had three carries and three yards in those two games. Whether it’s health, size, or ability, Snell is clearly the preferred backup option over McFarland right now.
Snell has had more opportunities to showcase his abilities than McFarland. Snell was around for two years before Harris showed up, backing up James Conner. In those two years, Snell got the opportunity to start five games and contribute in many more. Kaboly compiled the stats of Snell’s starts and any game in which he had at least 12 carries, a total of ten games. Omitting an anomalous start against Washington in 2020, Snell averaged 17 carries for 72 yards per game, averaging 4.2 yards per rush in those nine games. In a full season of those opportunities, Snell would project at 1,150 yards.
Snell’s body of work in previous seasons supports the argument that he can be relied upon as Harris’ relief. But, even if the Steelers did want to add another back to the stable, what options do they have? They have the option of having the backup running backs reflect the Ravens’ starters from last year following season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, as Latavius Murrayand Devonta Freemanare available. (Even if Le’Veon Bell were planning to play in 2022, and not focus on a potential boxing career, his Steelers past and recent performance likely makes him a non-starter here.) Past those three, veterans Carlos Hyde, David Johnson, and Devontae Booker are all free agents. Are any of these options an improvement on Snell? Potentially, but it may not be worth the money and playbook study necessary to bring them level with where Snell is at now.
More potential names could surface as team’s trim their rosters down to the final 53. Myles Gaskin in Miami, Chris Carson in Seattle, Tevin Coleman in New York, and D’Onta Foreman in Carolina could all be on the chopping block come late August and find themselves looking for work.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Pittsburgh doesn’t enter the 2022 season with a 1-2-3 of Harris-Snell-McFarland. As attractive as those other options may sound, Pittsburgh has no interest in reducing Harris’ carries. If healthy, Harris will continue his role as a bell-cow, with Snell and McFarland only appearing in rare moments of exhaustion or for special situations. McFarland has shown he can play in a situational role and Snell has proven he can be effective when given a bulk-carry opportunity (for instance, if Harris gets injured), but the importance of the question of who backs ups Harris is moot as long as Harris stays healthy.
Let’s round up a few items from the league’s North divisions:
Vikings LT Christian Darrisaw, the No. 23 overall pick of this year’s draft, has undergone two procedures for a groin injury in 2021, which delayed the start to his pro career. But he saw his first snaps at the left tackle position in last week’s win over the Lions, and he will get the start there against the Panthers today, as Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets. Rashod Hill had been trying to hold down the fort in Darrisaw’s absence, but he struggled, and today marks the true beginning of the Darrisaw era on the blindside.
The Ravens worked out free agent guard James Carpenter on Friday, as Doug Kyed of Pro Football Focus tweets. Baltimore is on the lookout for OL depth after placing rookie guard Ben Cleveland on IR earlier this week. This marks the first reported interest in Carpenter since he was released by the Falcons in March.
Even though the Steelers drafted RB Najee Harris in the first round of this year’s draft, 2020 draftee Anthony McFarland hoped to have a meaningful role on offense. But as Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review details, McFarland sustained a torn MCL during the preseason and has been on IR ever since. He was designated for return last week, and Rutter says the Maryland product will most likely be back on the field after the Steelers’ Week 7 bye.
As Tua Tagovailoa continues to rehab from a hip injury, the quarterback is uncertain whether he’ll enter the NFL Draft or stay at Alabama for another season. In a conversation with Cecil Hurt of TideSports.com (and passed along by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com on Twitter), Tagovailoa said he’ll continue to discuss his future with his parents in anticipation of the January 20th deadline to declare for the draft.
“There is a risk and a reward if I stay and a risk and a reward if I go,” Tagovailoa said. “The risk if I stay is obviously ‘Do I get hurt again?’ The reward is that I could come back and have another good year like my sophomore year and elevate myself back to the very top of the (NFL) draft.
“If I leave, I think the risk is a little higher. That risk would be how far do I drop in the draft. To me, it’s 50-50 between going in the first round and possibly going in the second round. If I go somewhere from first (overall) to around 24th, the money will be set. But let’s say — and I am just picking a number — that I go to the 31st pick. That would be about 9 million dollars. That’s a lot of money, an amount of money I’ve never had before, but it’s not high first-round money and you can never make that money up. They say you can (make it up) on your next contract but money lost is money lost to me.
“Those are the deciding factors. If my parents tell me that they think I should leave, that is obviously going to be a factor. But so far, they’ve told me that it’s my decision.”
The quarterback doesn’t have a timetable for his return from injury. Even with the ailment, we recently heard that Tagovailoa would still be a first-round pick in the 2020 draft.
Let’s check out some more draft notes:
TCU wideout Jalen Reagor announced on Twitter that he’s entering the 2020 draft. Following a 1,000-yard campaign in 2018, Reagor finished 2019 with 43 catches for 611 yards and five touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound receiver is listed as the sixth-best player at his position by CBS Sports.
Maryland RB Anthony McFarland Jr. has declared for the 2020 draft. The former redshirt sophomore still had two years of eligibility. McFarland finished his season having compiled 614 rushing yards and eight scores on 114 carries. He added another 17 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.
Missouri will be losing a trio of contributors, as defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, and offensive lineman Trystan Colon-Castillo all declared for the 2020 draft. Okwuegbunam is easily Missouri’s top-rated prospect, with the tight end ranking third at his position, per CBS Sports.
Oregon State receiver Isaiah Hodgins will enter the NFL Draft, the player announced on social media (via Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com). The son of former NFL player James Hodgins, the Beavers wideout finished this past season with 86 receptions for 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns. Considering the receiver depth in the upcoming draft, Hodgins will be hard pressed to be an early-round pick.
Colorado wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. is entering the draft, the team announced on Twitter. “Laviska Shenault represented our relentless culture and was one of the most dynamic, dominant and versatile players that I have ever coached,” said head coach Mel Tucker. Shenault had 1,775 yards and 10 touchdowns between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.