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: Running back James Conner will account for more than 50 percent of the carries in 2020.
Explanation: James Conner was a lead and Pro Bowl back in 2018. He registered 215 carries during that season (they only recorded 345 carries as a team). He did that in 13 games. But last season, limited to 10 games, he only recorded 116 carries out of 395.
Yes, and it doesn’t even have to be about his health. As long as he doesn’t miss a bunch of games, it would be hard for him not to get 50 percent or more of the carries. When he was on the field last year, he repeatedly showed—at least once he got going—that he was their most talented runner.
Benny Snell put some quality reps on tape, make no mistake, but Conner was clearly a cut or two above him, as evidenced by his 145-yard game against the Miami Dolphins. Had his year not been sidetracked by a shoulder injury, we wouldn’t even be talking about him with question marks. Because there’s no question that he has the talent.
And the others don’t. Snell isn’t the same athlete. Neither is Jaylen Samuels, but he’s also really not a great runner, period. Kerrith Whyte is not big enough for a sizeable load, but he can be effective in small doses. And they’re not going to bring anybody else in.
There are two ways this will go south. The most immediate way is the simple fact that history has shown he’s not going to stay healthy. He has suffered an injury of reasonable significance in each of his first three seasons. Le’Veon Bell also had a hard time staying on the field, so there is precedent for such a pattern.
The other thing that is going to put him below the 50 percent line is, yes, Snell. And that’s because he’s going to have a fantastic offseason, much like Conner had going from year one to year two. Snell is far ahead of where Conner was as a rookie, but he’s going to put in the same kind of work and surprise some doubters in 2020. Get ready for Benny Snell Football. Even if Conner stays healthy, they are going to ride the hot hand.