Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher selected in fourth round of NFL Draft

Benny Snell: A look back at the Kentucky running back’s 2018 season

Highlights from University of Kentucky football running back Benny Snell's 2018 season.
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Highlights from University of Kentucky football running back Benny Snell's 2018 season.

The most productive running back in University of Kentucky football history has a new home.

Benny Snell was selected No. 122 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday. He was the fourth former Wildcat chosen in this year’s draft. Josh Allen went No. 7 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Lonnie Johnson was drafted No. 54 overall in the second round by the Houston Texans and Mike Edwards went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 99 overall in the third round.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spoke of Snell’s role in UK’s recent string of success when asked about the newest member of his backfield.

“We didn’t overanalyze it. We just really like Benny Snell,” said Tomlin. “He’s a good football player who we thought was a central figure in a culture change at Kentucky. That guy had those guys extremely competitive. They kicked a lot of butt in the SEC this year, particularly over the course of his three years there.”

There could potentially be lots of carries up for grabs in Pittsburgh. All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell sat out last year because of a contract dispute then signed with the New York Jets as a free agent in the offseason. In Bell’s absence, second-year pro James Conner led the Steelers with 973 yards on 215 carries. Jaylen Samuels and Trey Edmunds ended up second and third on the Steelers’ depth chart at the end of last season. Pittsburgh drafted Samuels out of N.C. State in the fifth round in 2018. Edmunds was an undrafted free agent who played at Virginia Tech and Maryland and will be entering his third professional season.

Snell’s addition gave the Steelers six total running backs as of Saturday afternoon. His main competitors for a roster spot could be Vanderbilt alum Ralph Webb and former Louisville running back Malik Williams, both of whom entered the league as undrafted free agents last year.

Snell’s larger-than-life personality and the enjoyment he clearly expressed while playing were part of what endeared him to Kentucky fans. Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner said those qualities played a big role in the organization’s decision to draft Snell.

“It’s very evident when you sit down with this young man the passion he has for the game,” Faulkner said after Snell’s selection, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We were very interested in finding someone who had a passion and loves football and that’s Benny Snell. Soon as you turn on the tape he mirrors that type of football. He represents the Steelers brand as a football player.”

Snell said Pittsburgh was a perfect landing spot.

“I felt in the bottom of my heart this is where I belong because of my style of running the ball,” he told the Post-Gazette. “I’m like a Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson, just fighting for those extra yards. My style of running is Steelers football.”

Snell was the 10th running back selected in the draft and will give the Steelers two Kentucky alums on their roster. Pittsburgh drafted former Wildcat Bud Dupree in the first round of the 2015 draft.

It took Snell just three seasons to become UK’s all-time leading rusher. He broke the previous mark, which was set by UK Hall of Famer Sonny Collins and stood for 43 years, in his final college game: Kentucky’s 27-24 victory over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.

Snell broke the record on a 12-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He finished his UK career with 3,873 yards and 48 total touchdowns. Snell topped the 1,000-yard mark and scored at least 12 touchdowns in all three of his seasons at Kentucky, joining Herschel Walker as the only other player in Southeastern Conference history to accomplish that feat in his first three years. Snell announced before the Citrus Bowl that he would forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft.