Now that the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: James Conner
Stock Value: Up
While the first day of OTAs was good news for third-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who got the opportunity to run the first-team defense at the mack, it was an even better day for second-year running back James Conner, who was back out on the practice field for the first time with his teammates since he tore his MCL late last season.
Not only did he look to be no worse for the wear when it comes to his knee, he also looked to have slimmed down some this offseason and appeared to be in great overall shape. Le’Veon Bell also slimmed down after his first season in the league. Bigger running back generally find that it’s easier to get through the season at a lower weight.
Conner was actually more of a finesse runner even in college than many realized, it generally assumed that he was a power back due to his size. But it’s reasonable to think that a slimmer playing weight could be an asset to his game.
But most important is the fact that he is able to be out there on the field with everybody else from day one of OTAs, which means that he is not going to fall behind in any way, and there is actually a decent amount of competition behind Bell this year.
Veterans Fitzgerald Toussaint and Stevan Ridley were re-signed in the offseason, the latter having only been signed after Conner was injured a year ago. They liked what they saw well enough to want to give him another opportunity.
They also used a fifth-round draft pick on Jaylen Samuels and added Jarvion Franklin as an undrafted free agent, who was a productive college runner working behind the team’s third-round draft pick, Chukwuma Okorafor.
Conner had some success as a runner during his rookie season but struggled to convince the team of his value in other areas, which helped to limit his snap count beyond the mere fact that Bell rarely ever comes off the field. He is hoping to shoulder a bigger chunk of the load in season two.