The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: James Conner will rush for over 1000 yards in 2019.
Explanation: As a second-year player and the undisputed starter with Le’Veon Bell having not shown up, James Conner was used as the bellcow back for much of the season, which resulted in him averaging roughly 75 yards on the ground per game. He finished just a bit under 1000 rushing yards for the season after missing three games due to an ankle sprain. The team has reportedly entertained the possibility of using more of a committee approach this season.
Conner would have gained about 1200 rushing yards last season had he played in all 16 games and maintained his per-game average, so that gives him a 20 percent cushion to work with if he simply stays healthy this time around.
Considering the fact that he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter last year, there is reason to be optimistic about what he can potentially to with a Pro Bowl season under his belt and the understanding that he is the man.
In spite of talk about a distribution of workload between himself, Jaylen Samuels, and Benny Snell, Jr., Head Coach Mike Tomlin has a track record for sticking with one back as long as he’s performing. So as long as Conner’s performing, he’s going to be churning out those yards, past the 1000-yard mark and beyond.
I have confidence in Samuels and Snell forcing the conversation about divvying up the workload this season, to the point where it shouldn’t be surprising at all if Conner fails to record enough carries to hit the 1000-yard mark.
He also has to show that he can stay healthy long enough to rush for that much, given his history. And the Steelers also have to be willing to run the ball enough. They had the second-fewest rushing attempts in the NFL last season, and there are no obvious seasons to see that changing.