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
James Conner has been impressing his teammates so far in OTAs, according to several different beat writers who have talked to players about the second-year running back. Which is all the more impressive given that he is coming off a torn MCL that he suffered late last season, from which he appears to be fully healed.
Even returning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took notice once he got back on the field. He is presumably running quite a bit with the first-team offense given that Le’Veon Bell isn’t here, so the two probably saw a good amount of snaps together, and will continue to do so throughout the offseason.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN even noted Roethlisberger’s praised for the young back, saying that he’s excited about what the Pittsburgh product can do in training camp. When the pads are on. He has transformed his body to slim down and tone up, appearing to be in the best shape of his life.
Conner only received 32 carries during his rookie season, but he did a pretty good job of making the most of them, posting a healthy rushing average and a good percentage of successful runs, a metric that is determined by down and distance.
He has talked about his desire this offseason to really work on the weak areas of his game, focusing in particular on all aspects of the passing game, which includes improving his pass protection. Former offensive coordinator Todd Haley around the middle of last season cited his struggles in that area as one of the reasons that he was not seeing more snaps.
Early reports even on that front have been positive, though of course they are not going through full contact yet. To be sure, however, he is not lacking in the physical aspect of pass protection. For him, it’s more a matter of identifying his assignments and responsibilities.
While he will likely see more playing time in year two than he did a season ago, he will likely still struggle to find playing time behind Bell, who rarely comes off the field while healthy. if he wants to play more, he must take advantage of any opportunity he is given. So far, he appears to be doing that, even in OTAs.