One look at the projected Pittsburgh Steelers running back corps for 2012 and you will see a bunch of question marks. 2011 starter and former first round selection Rashard Mendenhall finished the season on injured reserve after tearing his ACL in the season finale, and will likely start 2012 on the PUP list. Primary back up, Isaac Redman looked like a playmaker in limited action and should enter training camp as the starter, but behind him there sits a bunch of question marks with talented but inexperienced running backs Barron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has stated that the team would like to bring in another back via free agency or the draft to help bolster this group, and the team has played host to two running backs during the pre-draft visitor process Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead(Steelers101 profile 4/4) and Oregon running back LaMichael James. Both backs have shown durability and home run ability, and both look to be second or third round prospects.
James is an interesting prospect, who despite his diminutive size has been extremely productive on the college level. In many ways, he looks the part of Kansas City Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster (drafted by new OC Todd Haley), but may be more of an accomplished overall running back. He is a solid receiver out of the backfield, who is gifted in the open field with great combination of athleticism, elusiveness and explosion. A threat to take it to the house on every touch, he is stronger between the tackles than his size may indicate and uses his low center of gravity to his advantage. More importantly, he is at his best at big moments and wants the ball in his hands.
Unfortunately, he does have a few things working against him besides his size (5-8, 194 pounds). While relatively durable during his college career, he was banged around which could take a toll on his smallish frame. On top of that, he is coming from a spread offense, lacks experience in a prototypical NFL scheme, and did have show some moment where ball security was an issue. He also has some off-field character issues that will have to be addressed prior to the draft after being suspended for one game in 2010 after a domestic issue and arrest in a situation with his girlfriend. If his character checks out, James could come off the board sometime in the second round (although third is more likely). He is an explosive talent that could pay dividends for a team that understands how to optimize his unique skill set.
As we have done throughout this process, Steelers101 will continue to profile the pre-draft visitors. To date, we have completed 20 of the 30 that have made their way to Pittsburgh. With this profile of James, we have completed both running back visitors for the Steelers. Feel free to check them out and let us know what you think @steelers_101 on twitter.
Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead(Steelers101 profile 4/4)
Oregon running back LaMichael James
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