2018 Midseason Evaluations: RB James Conner

With the Pittsburgh Steelers having completed the first portion of their season, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this year and give out some midseason player evaluations.

The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first six games with a winning record despite being 1-2-1 just two weeks ago. Coming off of consecutive strong victories with improve play from both sides of the ball, things are looking up.

The offense has done its part for the most part, but has taken some long vacations. Their disappearing acts in the second half was perplexing, but that has improved. Defensively, the secondary is seemingly becoming a bit more stable after being nothing short of terrible previously, but there are absolutely some real concerns remaining.

Player: James Conner, RB

Most people did not expect there to be so much to write about at this point of the season when it comes to James Conner, figuring that, you know, some other running back might be in Pittsburgh taking a lot of snaps.

But that hasn’t been the case, at least for the first six games, and until we have some evidence of that changing any time soon, the focus will of course continue to be on Conner, the second-year running back who has been playing very well of late.

Through six starts this year, he has compiled 453 rushing yards on 103 carries, the fifth-most rushing yards in the league, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. His seven rushing touchdowns are second only to Todd Gurley’s nine, which puts the latter on pace to clear 20 rushing touchdowns.

Beyond that, Conner also has the sixth-most receiving yards among running backs with 257, and he has compiled that yardage on just 26 receptions, essentially averaging 10 yards per catch. He his three receptions of 20 yards or more in addition to five such runs, giving him eight explosive plays on the season.

Most important is the fact that he not only has done well in every facet of the game, but he has shown continual improvement. While he worked extensively on his receiving ability during the offseason, which has been on display this year, making some impressive catches, his pass protection in particular has made strides from the start of the season.

Conner has proven himself capable of being a featured back in the traditional sense, able to shoulder the load for an entire game while rarely coming off the field. It won’t surprise you to learn that he is near the top in terms of snap counts for running backs.

Of course, six games do not make a season, so it will be important for him to show that he can pick up next week where he left off a week ago.

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