The Steelers have been set at the running back position for over a decade with Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker, and most recently, Rashard Mendenhall. In 2011 Mendenhall enjoyed an excellent season, causing 30 players to miss tackles on him on his 228 attempts with just one fumble. The problem for Pittsburgh, though, is part way into the last game of the regular season Mendenhall tore his ACL; an injury that will likely keep him out for at least part of the 2012 season.
This offseason Pittsburgh didn’t make upgrading the running back position a priority. They didn’t add a back in free agency and it wasn’t until the fifth round of the draft that they added a rookie. While salary cap problems factored into this, the Steelers didn’t need to worry about the position because they have faith in their backup running back from last year, Isaac Redman.
While he’s only had 186 carries in his short NFL carrier, Redman has done enough to show he could be the answer to the Steelers’ rushing problems not just in the short term while Mendenhall is out, but also the future. If his sixth-highest Elusive Rating of 59.8 in 2011 tells us anything, it’s that it will be exciting to see what this Secret Superstar can do with more carries.
Redman went to Division-II Bowie State University where he re-wrote his team’s record book. He went undrafted, and got a free agent contract with the Steelers in 2009. He couldn’t beat out the triple-threat attack from Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, and Willie Parker, so most of his rookie season was spent on the practice squad.
Parker had a down year in 2009 which ended up being his last in Pittsburgh. The following season, both Redman and rookie Jonathan Dwyer found spots on the 53-man roster, with Redman edging Dwyer on the depth chart. Redman logged between six and 19 offensive snaps per game that year and, while no individual game stood out because he never had more than six carries, his cumulative totals were impressive. He averaged 5.0 yards per carry, and forced 11 missed tackles on his 59 carries.
Backup Role in 2011
In 2011 Redman saw a significant increase in his role with the team. His share of the rushing load (24.5%) prior to Mendenhall’s injury was more than double of the 10.7% he saw in 2010. While Moore had been in for many more snaps in the passing game in 2010 (220 for Moore to 105 for Redman) those numbers flipped in 2011 with Redman seeing his tally jump to 232 and Moore seeing his drop to 102.
As his snap count grew, he maintained the production level he had established in 2010. On the season, Redman averaged 4.7 yards per carry and had 25 players miss tackles on him on 127 carries. That was 0.19 missed tackles caused per carry; fourth-best among backs with at least 125 attempts. While he was playing well throughout the season, it was from Week 13 on that he stepped things up. For the first 12 weeks of the season he had a PFF rating of +6.9, and from Week 13 on it was +8.3 for a season total of +15.2.
It began with back-to-back home games against Cincinnati and Cleveland where he totaled 86 yards on 14 attempts (a 6.1 average), the Cincinati game being his first with 50+ yards. Redman didn’t get much of an opportunity against San Francisco (Pittsburgh had 50 passing plays), but was back on track in their home game against St. Louis where he had 35 yards on eight attempts and his second touchdown of the season.
Making the Most of an Opportunity
In Week 17 against Cleveland–the game in which Mendenhall was injured early on–Redman became the lead back. He had 19 rushing attempts and forced seven missed tackles on his way to a 92-yard day.
The following week in the playoffs against Denver was his real breakout opportunity. On 17 rushing attempts, Redman accumulated 121 yards–83 of them coming after contact. He churned through another five missed tackles, and averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Although it was in a losing effort, it was clearly his best game as a Pro. A small sample size, but it’s promising to know that Redman has performed best when he’s been given the most opportunities and when the stakes were highest.
The Opportunity to Come
After two years of fighting Mendenhall and Moore for playing time, Redman won’t have to worry about either player for the start of 2012. Moore didn’t re-sign with the team, and Mendenhall’s injury will likely keep him out for some time. Now the players behind him on the depth chart are 2010 sixth-round pick Jonathan Dwyer and 2011 undrafted back John Clay. The two of them had a combined 54 snaps in 2011. Redman has played at a very high level on a per-play basis, and now the number of plays he is in for should see a significant increase.
The Steelers’ offensive line is going through a lot of changes, with rookies Mike Adams and David DeCastro projected to take over starting roles at left tackle and right guard, respectively, while Willie Colon has moved to left guard. On the bright side, that means Ramon Foster, Chris Kemoeatu, Doug Legursky, and Jonathan Scott with their combined -21.7 run block rating won’t be on the field. When healthy, Willie Colon has consistently produced positive run block ratings and, if the two rookies perform better in run blocking than the players who came before them, we could see Redman’s per-attempt numbers continue to improve.
It’s usually a success story when an undrafted player from a Division II school can make an NFL roster. Redman not only did that, but has hung around and made a mark on the team. The future for this Secret Superstar will be even brighter if he takes hold of the chance he’s soon to be presented with.