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
His night may have ended with a banged-up shoulder, but before that, James Conner had his best game of the season. While he didn’t have much of an opportunity to contribute in the passing game—he did have an early nine-yard reception on which he broke a tackle to convert on third down—it was by far his strongest showing on the ground since last season.
In all, he rushed for 145 yards on 23 attempts with a score, averaging over six yards per attempt. Much of the improvement in his numbers could be attributed to the quality of the blocking performance of the offensive line—not so much in fullback Roosevelt Nix, who had more poor snaps than good—but his explosiveness alternated with patient running was at a level higher than he had shown in any other game this year.
It was really the sort of performance that a lot of people needed to see from him to take some criticism off his shoulders, among those who were skeptical he wasn’t just a one-season wonder, now that opponents had tape on him.
But as was the case last season, Conner’s ability to break tackles, sometimes as a result of his physicality, and at-times surprising elusiveness and speed—particularly on carries to the perimeter—remind that he still is responsible for a lot of his own rushing success.
Over the course of his career, he has at times even looked to be better when he is catching the ball, or at least after he’s caught it, in terms of displaying an ability to make people miss in the open field. This has been particularly evident in the team’s previous two wins.
Provided that he is not too limited by his shoulder injury, it is a good performance to build off of, as we perhaps see the team able to better merge his usage on the ground and as a receiver. His work in pass protection has also been a consistent positive, which should not be overlooked.