The Pittsburgh Steelers knew heading into the 2017 season that they were going to be in the market for a new backup running back with DeAngelo Williams seeming to be at the end of his rope. For the most part, the team has preferred to have a veteran as the backup to running back Le’Veon Bell, but they ended up going with rookie James Conner in that role.
According to Adrian Peterson, however, it could have been him. in a recent Yahoo! article, he said that the Steelers reached out to him before he ultimately signed with the New Orleans Saints, and that, had he not really wanted to go there, he could have ended up in Pittsburgh instead.
In discussing why he didn’t give much thought to the fact that he was not signed until Washington lost rookie Derrius Guice for the season this past year, he said that it was because he knew another opportunity would come around, citing the Steelers’ interest a year before.
“I know that organization, as far as their talent evaluators, they know that I’ve got something”, he said. “A lot of people don’t know this because it’s not something that I talk about, but before I signed with the Saints, they were a team that reached out. I just never said anything to anyone about it because I was already locked in and knew that I wanted to sign with the Saints. But Pittsburgh was a team that kind of reached out as well”.
Had the Steelers signed Peterson, I think there’s a reasonable chance that he would have gotten a larger portion of the workload than did Conner during his rookie season behind Bell. Conner only had 32 carries in 14 games.
Had Guice not gotten injured, is it possible that the Steelers would have signed Peterson once Bell chose not to report? Probably not. In fact, I would doubt that very much. Head Coach Mike Tomlin and the rest of the team was very high on Conner entering this year, and he has seemed to justify that belief so far over the course of the first three games.
But it’s still fun to think about what it might have been like to have Peterson backing up Bell. Hopefully something better than LeGarrette Blount’s 2014 season, even if not as significant as Williams’ year in 2015.
As it currently stands, Peterson is proving that he is still a legitimate NFL starter. He is fifth in the league in rushing right now with 236 yards on 56 carries, averaging 4.2 yards per rush. He also has three rushing touchdowns. He has another 100 yards through the air on five receptions, including a 52-yard catch-and-run.
As for Conner, he is sixth in rushing and eighth in yards from scrimmage right now. One of the players he is behind in the latter is actually his teammate, JuJu Smith-Schuster. Three of the seven ahead of him are receivers, and five of the top 10.