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Spotlight - RB Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh Steelers

Jason Wood's mug

Jason Wood's Thoughts

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Jerome Bettis, coming off a heroic 2004 season that saw him play a major role on a surprising 15-1 team, had decided to come back for one final run at the Super Bowl. But it wasn't an easy decision, and when he finally decided to return it was under the impression that he would FINALLY get a chance to embrace the role of backup. After all, the Steelers had invested ample dollars into Duce Staley a year ago only to see him struggle with injury. But Staley was healthy, and Bettis would be able to charge his batteries and play spot duty and key roles in short yardage and at the goal line. Right?


Another season, another injury for Staley. For a guy who is 220 lbs. on a skinny day, Staley simply hasn't been durable. In 8 NFL seasons, he's carried the ball more than 300 times once (1999), and has only had 200+ carries one in the last five seasons. In the last two years, Staley has 288 carries COMBINED. In the process, it's been a long time since Staley lived up to his fantasy billing. In the last two years, Staley has finished a whopping 28th and 37th among fantasy backs, hardly the stuff of legend. And in eight seasons, Staley has NEVER had more than 5 rushing touchdowns. The one area where Duce has been above average at times has been as a receiver (50+ catches in three different seasons) but Pittsburgh doesn't appear ready to use him in that way; he had just six receptions in 10 games a year ago.

But maybe this is the year Staley puts it all together, right?

Not so fast my friend. In early August Staley had arthroscopic surgery to fix a partially torn meniscus and will be sidelined for AT LEAST a month.

Which brings us back to Bettis...

No rest for the weary it seems. Bettis, 33 years young, will look to build on his all-time marks as the Steelers starter, at least until Staley is back fully healthy (in other words, don't hold your breath). Bettis currently sits 3rd all time in rushes and 5th all time in yards. It would be difficult for him to move any higher in either category without several more productive seasons, but he very well could move himself into the Top 10 all-time leaders in rushing TDs as he needs just 8 scores to pass Eric Dickerson.

The Steelers ran the ball more than 600 times last year, and while the team will likely throw a bit more with Ben Roethlisberger having a year under his belt, it would be a mild surprise if the Steelers weren't among the league leaders in rushing attempts again in 2005.

Regardless of whether Staley comes back healthy, Bettis should be in line for the short yardage work, including at the goal line. Bettis' 13 rushing TDs in 2004 marked a career high, and it wouldn't be difficult to project double digit scores again if he remains healthy. With a powerful run-blocking line, and a dominant defense, he should have plenty of chances to grind out tough yards and punch it in from a yard or two out.


  • The Steelers are as committed to running the football as any team in recent NFL history
  • The Steelers offensive line, barring injury, should be one of the league's most punishing run blocking units
  • Ben Roethlisberger is a year older and the team should be more balanced, which while taking attempts away likely creates more trips into the red zone


  • Duce Staley cannot stay healthy and Bettis seems a bit reluctant to undertake a full time workload
  • The Steelers line will be starting an unproven right tackle in Max Starks
  • The Steelers, while remaining committed to the run, should be in line to throw more this year as Ben Roethlisberger matures and the coaching staff gives him more responsibility to generate offense

Final Thoughts

As an Eagles season ticket holder, I know that Duce Staley is a hard worker and a good teammate. But, he's not durable. Say what you will about injuries being hard to predict but when a guy can't amass 200+ carries in four of five seasons, AND is rehabbing yet another injury this preseason, I don't see how you can feel secure in projecting a full season of work for him. Since you still need to draft Staley as a 3rd RB (i.e., your chief backup), I'm not sure the risk/reward is justified. Whereas Bettis, despite being the Steelers starter and returning to a role that led him to an 18th place finish last year, is still being drafted much later than he should be. Draft accordingly.

Cecil Lammey's Thoughts

Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley started off like gang-busters in 2004. Staley was racking up the yards, and Bettis was getting all the goal line touchdowns. In the first eight games Duce had four 100 yard performances while only scoring one touchdown, and Jerome was averaging less than three yards per carry but had eight touchdowns. It was a great marriage and was going along smoothly until Staley injured his groin about half way through the season. It was at that time the Bus had to come out of the garage for some full time duty.

Many wondered if Bettis still had it in him. After all, he hadn’t had a 1,000 yard season since 2001 and didn’t look like the same old Bus in recent years. Well, Bettis proved all the nay-sayers wrong and had a great second half in 2004. He had six 100 yard performances in the last eight games and still punched it in on the goal line, scoring five touchdowns. While his YPC wasn’t great, he still looked like the Bus of old. Bettis contemplated retirement after the disappointing loss in the AFC Championship. However, with the Super Bowl being held in Detroit (his home town), and the Steelers looking like they could have another run at the title, the Bus decided to stay.

Duce Staley on the other hand ended the season backing up Jerome Bettis. He did play a key role in some late drives when the Bus needed a breather. Staley is also a capable receiver, but is not asked to catch the ball a lot in the Steeler offense (only 12 targets in 2004). Duce is still a capable back, but has some injury concerns heading into 2005. An arthroscopic surgical procedure has revealed a torn meniscus in the right knee of Duce Staley. He is expected to be out a month while recovering from the procedure to correct the problem. This means that once again the Bus will be relied on heavily by the Pittsburgh offense. Staley is a seasoned veteran and should come back from his injury quickly, unless barred by setbacks.


  • Both are great in short yardage/goal line situations
  • Experience. Eleven 1,000 yard seasons between them
  • Power. Able to wear down defenses and put away games late
  • Dedication to the run. Steelers will always pound the rock


  • Age. Both are long in the tooth for an NFL RB (over 30)
  • Both have missed significant time due to injuries in recent years
  • Low receiving numbers. 20 targets between them last season

Final Thoughts

Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis have had great careers. Heading into the 2005 season there are several questions about both of them. Does the Bus still have some left in the tank? Can Duce ever stay healthy and show the Steelers that he can get it done for a full season? Not only do these two great backs have questions surrounding them, they also have some young RBs who will be pushing for more playing time. Verron Haynes is a ‘tweener back that is great as a receiver, and can pick up some tough yards. “Fast” Willie Parker is perhaps the fastest player on the Steelers squad, and is a willing inside runner. The Steelers also went out and drafted Noah Herron from Northwestern in the 7th round. In fantasy football it is best to draft both of these Steeler RBs if you have room on your bench. Together these RBs combined for over 1,700 yards and 14 TDs in 2004. If healthy, it’s not out of the question to expect these type of numbers for this dynamic duo in 2005.

Quotations from the Message Board Thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Shooter McGavin:
Staley will lose some goal-line touches to Bettis, but I don't think he'll be coming out every time the Steelers get inside the 5. Staley has a bit of an ego, and I don't think he'd be happy giving up all the goal-line carries. Plus, Staley's not exactly tiny either. I think a lot of Pittsburgh's points will be coming on the ground.

Ministry of Pain:
I think Staley will hit the 1,000 yd rushing mark but what makes him a subchoice in Pitt is the fact he can never get enough receptions to make him into a 1,500 total yd guy.

Bettis is already on record saying he needed a lot more time for his body to recover from last season and that he is hoping to stay around 100 carries on the season. Pittsburgh has enough talented backups to grant him his wish. I would say Duce, provided he stays healthy will get 60% of the carries, Bettis 20% (mainly goal line and later in the year) and Haynes 20%. Now if Duce gets hurt, look out for Willie Parker.

Jerome Bettis Projections

Jason Wood1556551010650
Cecil Lammey250950115800
Message Board Consensus12442483130

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