The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2013 off-season with a quandary of issues to deal with at the running-back position. None of the team’s backs impressed sufficiently during last season, while each of those backs are now free agents. Not only are the Steelers looking to re-sign at least some of last year’s players, they are also looking to improve upon the production from that area by bringing in a new face or two. When the New York Giants released Ahmad Bradshaw this week, many quickly considered the Steelers as a potential landing spot.
For various reasons, the Steelers shouldn’t even consider Bradshaw.
Bradshaw was taken in the seventh round of the 2007 NFL draft and has spent his whole career with the Giants. He was initially part of a three-way rotation with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, before Ward left to allow Bradshaw to become the primary complement to Jacobs. In 2010, Bradshaw took over as the primary back for Jacobs. Since that season, Bradshaw has started 32 of a possible 48 regular season games. He has 668 carries for 2,909 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. He also has 104 receptions for 826 yards and two touchdowns.
There is no arguing that he has been a productive back over the last three seasons, but there are also no doubting his overwhelming flaws.
Over 770 total touches in three seasons isn’t huge for a feature back, but it is for Bradshaw. Bradshaw is strong, but he’s also diminutive, and has dealt with serious foot injuries over the past two seasons. Bradshaw barely practiced during the regular season last year, and likely would have lost his place to David Wilson if he hadn’t fumbled early on, or Andre Brown, who landed on IR quickly after emerging. Bradshaw will be just 27 by the start of next season, but 27 with a history of injury issues, six seasons and 1,053 career touches is not young for a running-back.
Running-backs don’t slowly slip off the radar as they get older. Even someone like Ladanian Tomlinson, who was much, much better than Bradshaw in his prime, quickly went from feature back in San Diego to role player with the New York Jets. Instead of having their careers slowly decline, most backs fall off the face of a cliff once their careers hit the latter stages. Even the more resilient runners such as Thomas Jones and Marion Barber quickly went from stud to unemployed.
Even if Bradshaw somehow gets healthy and plays like he did in his prime, the Steelers still wouldn’t be getting an upgrade over Rashard Mendenhall. Bradshaw was always a low-end starter in the NFL. He did put up respectable numbers, so he garnered a reputation amongst today’s fantasy focused fan base. However, he also had major issues with turnovers.
In a six-year career, 19 fumbles isn’t that much, but most of his career was spent as a bit-part piece of the offense. When you consider that Mendenhall has a reputation amongst Steelers fans as a fumbler with just nine fumbles in his whole career, on only 100 or so less touches, it’s hard to imagine how Bradshaw would be better welcomed in the backfield.
At the very least, Mendenhall proved that he can carry the full load during the 2010 season, when he only had two fumbles on over 300 carries. During the only season when Bradshaw had more than 250 carries, he fumbled the ball seven times.
Now if Bradshaw offered significantly more play-making ability than the Steelers’ other options, it would make sense for them to consider signing him. However, he doesn’t. Bradshaw gets fantasy numbers, but to call him productive considering his situations in the past and his turnover issues is misguided. He is a receiving option out of the backfield and an elusive runner, but he isn’t the best pass protector and doesn’t impose himself on opposing defenses.
The Steelers either need a feature back they can hook their whole running game to or a group of role players who they can rely on. Bradshaw doesn’t fit under either of those definitions.