by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
You can argue that James Conner was the star of the Steelers’ second preseason game, taking 5 carries for 57 yards and 1 TD. Let’s take a look at the five touches he had:
- Rush 1 – No Gain
- Rush 2 – -1 Yards
- Rush 3 – 8 yards
- Rush 4 – 24 yards
- Rush 5 – 26 yards, TD
The final three carries came on consecutive plays, showing his explosiveness. Obviously once Le’Veon Bell is on the field Conner’s opportunities will be limited, though Bell has played 16 games just twice in his five year career and is coming off a season where he averaged 4.0 yards/carry. No one is about to push the panic button, but you do wonder if the Steelers could look to reduce his workload (406 touches last year) in an effort to keep him fresh.
That would mean increased opportunities for the sophomore Conner, a 2017 third round selection who was given just 32 carries a year ago. He did take them for 144 yards, though it shouldn’t be a surprise that his production was limited.
Walter Football noted prior to the draft:
“It was a triumph for Conner to return to the field and find the end zone as much as he did in 2016; however, he doesn’t look like quite the same player as he was before his knee injury and his victory over cancer. Sources said it may have been in Conner’s best interest to play one more year of college football and get all the way back before going into the 2018 NFL Draft, but he decided to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.”
With that in mind you can almost consider his rookie season like a red shirt year. There shouldn’t have been much expected of him, but his performance Thursday night shows that he does have the potential and could finally be back up to speed.
Back in 2014 he took 298 carries for 1,765 yards and 26 TD, and at his size (6’1”, 233 lbs) he should be considered a potential TD vulture. Breaking back-to-back runs of 20+ yards shows he could be more than that, though. Obviously he’s not going to be a difference maker or a lead back, but he should have a bigger role in ’18 (think 5-7 carries per game).
As a handcuff he’s a no-brainer, but even those digging deep for any type of value may want to stash him just in case.
Sources – ESPN, Walter Football
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 preseason rankings: