Going into the 2010 NFL Draft, Jonathan Dwyer was one of the hottest names floating around in dynasty circles. After all, he had just finished a fantastic career at Georgia Tech that saw him run for 1,395 yards in each of his last two seasons, on a healthy average of over 6.4 yards per carry. Tack on his 26 touchdowns in those two seasons and he looked like a future first round rookie pick in dynasty drafts.
All was not to be wine and roses, though.
Prior to the combine, Dwyer revealed he had been playing at around 240 pounds his entire Junior season (his last in college) and his coaches verified his weight was a constant challenge for him to maintain. He was able to get down to 229 for the NFL combine and ran a 4.59 40 at there, though some had him clocked in the 4.6 or 4.7 range, which is pretty sluggish for a tailback. When you combined his disappointing combine numbers (somewhat verified at his pro day) with concerns about his ability coming from an unconventional triple option attack, the stock of Dwyer seemed to be slipping out of the first round and possibly as late as the third.
Things got worse from there.
Dwyer tested positive for a banned substance at the combine, but it was later deemed as acceptable due to a medical condition. That condition was never verified, but Dwyer himself stated it was for treatment of an attention deficit disorder. Ironically, the positive drug test didn’t hurt his draft stock, but the condition itself likely did as Dwyer fell all the way to the sixth round of the draft, being selected at #188 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers. At that point, players aren’t even guaranteed a roster spot.
His first training camp was nearly a total disaster as he showed up overweight and hurt his hamstring on the first day. It didn’t get any better as he hurt his shoulder later in camp and looked to be clearly on the roster bubble. Dwyer salvaged a roster spot by playing well in the preseason’s last two games, rushing for 175 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries, good for an average of 5.3 yards per carry. The Steelers knew he wouldn’t make it on to the practice squad, so they kept him on the active roster. He finished the season by appearing in one game, carrying the ball nine times for 28 yards – hardly what dynasty owners could have hoped for.
Going into 2011, hopes were again rekindled as Dwyer made the Steelers as the fourth running back. He finally broke out in week six with 107 yards on 11 carries against Tennessee, showing everyone he still did, indeed, have some talent. Unfortunately, he broke his foot shortly after that game and went on injured reserve, prompting many dynasty owners to finally cut bait.
This year again brought some new hope with Rashard Mendenhall hurt and Isaac Redman being the lead back to start camp. Dwyer reportedly showed up to camp in the best shape of his life and it’s finally translated to the field. With Redman being very average in the preseason, Dwyer took the most of his opportunity and ran for 147 yards on 28 carries, good for an average of nearly 5.3 yards per carry. He’s also caught three passes for 48 yards, which has never been his strong suit.
Going into the season, Dwyer finally has some momentum. He’s passed the eye test thus far during the preseason as Redman has struggled, gaining just 38 yards on 17 carries. The coaching staff isn’t revealing who will start for Pittsburgh (and they play in the late game on Sunday, which makes it tough), but there’s little doubt that Dwyer is going to begin the season with meaningful touches for the first time in his career, whether he’s the starter or not. The best bet at the moment is Dwyer and Redman split carries with Chris Rainey sprinkled in on occasion.
Dwyer has been a total disappointment in dynasty leagues – it’s just a fact. However, he’s finally going to get a chance to showcase his ability and possibly carve out a meaningful role in the offense. He’s a great player to have stashed on your bench right now because the Steelers running game is a huge question mark. If his preseason play can translate to the field in the regular season, it’s going to be tough to keep him on the bench, even when Mendenhall comes back.
Personally, I’ve never been a believer in Dwyer. His weight issues and lack of passion have always bothered me. It looks like those could be in the past, but I find myself skeptical. If he puts together some solid games early, he may be a great dynasty “sell” candidate to a contender as I still find it hard to believe he’s the long term answer at tailback for the Steelers. The only problem is going to be deciding what to do if those games he puts up are “great,” and not “solid.”
We’ll soon find out.
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