Devil’s Advocate: James Conner’s Judicious Carries

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: How big of a role will James Conner play in the offense during his rookie season?

The Steelers headed into the 2017 NFL Draft pretty much knowing that they were going to come out of it with a running back. They were reportedly trying to trade into the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft in order to try to draft a running back, but they were not able to work out a deal.

That is perhaps why they felt the need to make sure that they drafted James Conner where they did, because they wanted to be absolutely sure that they would not pass over him before somebody else drafted him.

But the question that remains is whether or not there will be a significant opportunity to use him. The Steelers, after all, have an All-Pro running back in Le’Veon Bell, and historically when he has been healthy the other running backs get very few snaps.

Here’s why that could be different this year, though. For one, Bell is coming off yet another injury. He has ended three consecutive seasons with an injury that directly affected the team’s success, so they could be motivated to try to reduce his role in the hopes that he will be fresher for the playoffs.

They also drafted him in the third round for a reason. They think he is a talented player who can contribute. They think he can run physically as well as catch the ball and pass protect. Perhaps he can be given a series here or there or some situational work.

But it’s easy to go back to what Todd Haley said a while ago, which is basically that when Bell is on the field, it’s hard to get him off. Because he doesn’t want to come off and because you don’t want to take him off. There are too many things he can too when he is on the field.

Yet they know all too well what it looks like when he’s not on the field, as they’ve learned in three straight playoffs now. So their tune could be changing, especially now that they’re paying him an eight-figure salary. Protect the investment and all that.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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