Luck is often described as opportunity meeting preparation, and no know one understands that sentiment better than Benny Snell Jr.
In the very first game of just his second NFL season, the former Kentucky Wildcat and current running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers broke loose for a career-outing on the Monday Night Football grandstand. Snell trotted across the New York Giants defense to the tune of 113 rushing yards on 19 carries.
His 113 yards easily broke a previous career-best of 98 while 19 carries was a mere two shy off his high from the 2019 season, but it took another unfortunate injury to the Steelers’ top rusher coming into the year, James Conner, that led to Snell’s breakout night. Conner left in the first half of Week 1 after appearing in just 10 games a season ago due to various injuries. He was tabbed the Steelers “bell cow” on Pittsburgh’s offense long before the opening snap. However, if Snell’s production doesn’t let up and Conner’s ankle doesn’t heal up, the longterm decision becomes obvious: Benny Snell is the future running back of the Pittsburgh franchise–he might actually be the best overall back they have right now.
His hypnotic mouthpiece aside, there is plenty to love about the 2019 fourth-round pick.
Benny Snell back with the spinning mouthguard ?
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 15, 2020
“Most of my workload is on special teams so that is what I take my pride in,” Snell said after the game on Monday, according to TribLive. “So whenever my time comes I know it’ll come. Opportunity presented itself tonight, and I was able to get more carries than usual.”
Once Conner went out against the Giants in the second quarter, the Steelers immediately made Snell the go-to back. Up until then, Snell had only been on the field for five plays compared to Conner’s 15. Then there was RB3, Jaylen Samuels, who also saw a couple of snaps before Conner left the field. But with no one in front of him to take his snaps, Snell took command of the running game, as the Steelers ran the ball on 19 of the 26 plays he was on the gridiron, per Pro Football Focus. When Snell was off the field, the Steelers elected to pass the ball on 19 out of 20 plays that Samuels was in for–and he was only targeted once. Snell was the clear favorite following Conner’s departure and the former’s 5.95 yards per carry on Monday proved why.
Snell was doing his damage inside the tackles and out, breaking loose on multiple occasions (although one did result in a fumble). His cutting ability allowed him to slide back into plays, tacking on a few extra yards to those on runs before he ducked his head down and lunged forward with his final burst of speed. He didn’t make it across the endzone line this time, but that will surely come in time with more future reps, especially at the No. 1 back.
Here’s another fun stat, Snell was the only running back from Week 1 to run for two separate plays consisting of at least 20-plus yards. 16 of his 19 total carries went for a positive gain.
Benny Snell was the only running back with two runs of 20+ yards in Week 1 pic.twitter.com/tIr9faBivO
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) September 15, 2020
His style of play as a power back is impossible to notice, but what might go unseen is his willingness to use that same power in the role of a blocker. Snell played a key role in creating the first touchdown of the night for Pittsburgh, picking up a block on a blitzing Giants linebacker who had a clear line of sight on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Snell made the block and Rothlisberger made a terrific throw to the corner for an easy touchdown.
Just got home from Somerset….this Benny Snell blitz pickup is nice pic.twitter.com/lGiLvcwqV3
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) September 15, 2020
He’s only 5-foot-10, but Benny Snell comes with intangibles that can’t be taught; no one will outwork this man. He’s been tabbed as the underdog his entire career and is about to get the opportunity of a lifetime. Snell is the best available running back on the Steelers roster and should be the easy pick as the starter going forward.