There is a lot of excitement this year over Pittsburgh Steelers second-year running back James Conner—perhaps among none more so than those who are more than ready to see Le’Veon Bell in another jersey—but it should go without saying that the Pitt product has a long way to go before he even begins to establish himself in the NFL.
Not that he hasn’t gotten off to a great start. Beginning with a highly successful recovery from a torn MCL to getting in the best shape of his life, Conner’s business-like mentality to the offseason has steered him well and leaves him poised to become a meaningful contributor this year. Perhaps a starter early on, depending on Bell’s plans.
The 2017 third-round draft pick never slowed down throughout the offseason, though, carrying that out through all three preseason games in which he played. He was particularly dominant in the team’s second game against the Green Bay Packers, albeit in a loss (which featured two pick sixes). He showed his receiving skills in game number three, working with Ben Roethlisberger.
And his full body of work helped him to earn the nod from Pro Football Focus, who named him a member of their All-Preseason Team as the best running back of the preseason, receiving a league-high grade from them of 82.5.
“The absence of Le’Veon Bell has dominated the talk in Pittsburgh, but it is another Steelers running back who was our top player at the position during the preseason”, Gordon McGuinness wrote. “Averaging 4.2 yards after contact per attempt, and avoiding five tackles, Conner showed that he is no slouch with the ball in his hands”.
Conner was the only member of the Steelers to be named to the All-Preseason Team, though several members, including Damoun Patterson, James Washington, and Matthew Thomas, earned weekly honors. Such a prestigious distinction should help them when they become eligible for the Hall of Fame.
I kid, of course, but while this nod may be worth literally nothing, it is at least a representation of the quality of work that he has put in, not just through the preseason, but really since he first reported to the team’s facility this year. The fact that his 2018 process began by coming back from a knee injury only makes it even more admirable.
What sort of workload he actually gets a chance to see this year is very much up in the air. The Steelers still fully intend to have Bell at their disposal, and at the salary they anticipate paying him, you can be sure that they intend to get a full workload out of him.
Conner was limited to just 32 carries during his rookie season, rushing for 144 yards. I would imagine that he should easily double that, at least in terms of touches, but only time will tell for sure.