The Pittsburgh Steelers have spoken ad nauseum this offseason about a desire to generate more explosive plays offensively.
They seemingly have the horses to do so in the passing game between George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, and Pat Freiermuth. Whether or not Kenny Pickett makes a leap in his second season will help determine their effectiveness.
The Steelers will count on the running game to help open up room for Pickett to operate. Workhorse Najee Harris is a steadying force, but not a particularly explosive one with a career mark of just 3.9 yards per carry.
Who Is Jaylen Warren?
But his backup, Jaylen Warren, showed some burst in Saturday’s preseason tilt with the Buffalo Bills.
Jaylen Warren makes a HOUSE CALL 62 YARDS AND GONE pic.twitter.com/rygeDLoJen
— SteelerNation (@SteeIerNation) August 19, 2023
Warren, undrafted out of Oklahoma State in 2022, has steadily climbed the ladder during his football career.
He began his collegiate playing career at little-known Snow College, a community college in Ephraim, Utah. After two standout seasons there, he earned the chance to play for Utah State in the Mountain West Conference.
Warren upgraded once more heading into his final collegiate season, transferring to Oklahoma State and becoming a workhorse for Mike Gundy’s Cowboys. Warren racked up 1,216 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, helping guide the Cowboys to a 12-2 finish.
As a testament to his progression, consider once more that Warren went from opening his collegiate career at Snow College to ending it with a victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. He piled up 116 scrimmage yards in that game as well.
While Warren apparently didn’t warrant a draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, it didn’t take him long to draw attention as an undrafted free agent in Pittsburgh. He surpassed veteran draftees Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland on the depth chart, taking over as Najee Harris’ direct backup.
Warren impressed with limited touches early on. He also proved especially adept in pass protection. Something Harris, his backfield mate, acknowledged last year around this time.
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) September 12, 2022
“To be honest with you, going for my first year and my second year, that was one thing that (Tomlin) told me that, we need to find somebody to come in and spell me,” Harris said. “We have Jaylen for that. He became an amazing pass protector. I’m a higher guy, so my kind of getting low would be harder than it is for him ’cause he’s already lower.
“He’s done a good job of getting under people’s chin, stunning people in that pass game, and making them think twice about blitzing.”
Warren’s workload steadily grew as his rookie season wore on. He wound up finishing the season with 77 carries for 379 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and chipped in 28 catches for 214 yards through the air as well.
The Steelers made a concerted effort to improve their offensive line this offseason.
And Warren evidently made some improvements as well. That’s a great recipe for the Steelers, who did not have a single run of 40 or more yards last season, making a few more explosive plays on the ground this year.
Warren’s explosive preseason touchdown dash makes a compelling argument for him to see more work in Year 2.