Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: RB James Conner
Stock Value: Up
While the running game proved for the most part to continue to be tough sledding for the third-year back, James Conner is coming off his best game of the season, even if he had to leave early due to an injury. He totaled over 100 all-purpose yards and accounted for both of the Steelers’ offensive touchdowns in their victory over the Los Angeles Chargers last week, just their second win of the year.
In fact, both of the games the Steelers have won this season have been in those contests in which Conner has totaled over 100 yards from scrimmage. And in both of those games, most of his yardage has come on receptions, rather than on carries.
Against the Chargers in particular, he was a threat whenever he got the ball in space. He caught all seven of his targets for 78 yards, and scored from 26 yards out when he was able to break a tackle attempt close to the line of scrimmage. I believe I read that he was credited with forcing eight missed tackles on his seven receptions, the most by any player on receptions in a single game so far this season.
The running game still needs work no doubt. Make no mistake about that. Even with a somewhat long touchdown run, Conner still recorded just 41 rushing yards on 16 carries, which is not the kind of average that you’re looking for, south of three yards per carry.
He lost a yard twice, was stopped at the line of scrimmage an additional four times, and in total just had three ‘successful’ carries on his 16 attempts. That would be his 12-yard touchdown, an 11-yard gain on first and 10, and a four-yard conversion on third and two. His best run aside from that was a four-yard pickup on second and eight.
That’s not good enough, and it doesn’t even need to be said. The Steelers need to figure out what is dragging the running game down during this bye week and get it corrected. Conner’s own performance plays a role in that, not just the offensive line. But there are positive signs.