The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Where does James Conner rank among starting running backs in the NFL right now?
James Conner wasn’t supposed to be a starter in 2018, but since he was the next man up when ‘the man’ decided not to show, he fell into that role by default. It ended up working out pretty well, if you use the metric of him making the Pro Bowl. His numbers also look good.
In his second NFL season, Conner rushed for 973 yards on 215 carries in 13 games, averaging a healthy 4.5 yards per carry, with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also contributed another 55 touches on receptions for an additional 497 yards and a 13th touchdown.
The numbers were good, but one can argue that they looked better than his actual performance. How much did the offensive line contribute to his success, for example? I believe he only ranked toward the middle of the pack in terms of yards after contact, averaging 2.85 yards per contact per attempt.
For the season, 10 running backs finished with more rushing yards, all but one of whom also averaged more yards per rush, though of them only Todd Gurley had more rushing touchdowns. Derrick Henry also had 12. Alvin Kamara had 14 rushing touchdowns despite just 194 rushing attempts. And he also had another 709 yards with four more touchdowns on receptions.
So with all factors added up, where does he rank in the NFL among running backs? How does he compare to the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Gurley, Henry, Christian McCaffrey, Phillip Lindsay, Nick Chubb, Adrian Peterson, Joe Mixon Kamara, David Johnson…and Le’Veon Bell?