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: The Steelers can draft a back who is more talented when healthy than James Conner.
Explanation: Though he fell to the end of the third round, running back James Conner has shown at times when he is healthy that he can be a top-end running back, even making the Pro Bowl in 2018, totaling nearly 1500 yards from scrimmage with 13 scores despite missing three games due to injury.
If you’re going by projected talent level relative to prospects, then there are certainly backs coming out in this draft outside of those who may go in the first round who have more skills coming into the league than James Conner did, or even has now. Especially if you want to focus on speed.
J.K. Dobbins is just one guy to like in terms of somebody whose skill set really translates to the NFL, and Cam Akers is another guy who could be a value pick, even if they don’t look at the position in the second round, if you want to go based off of where Conner went.
Conner might not be the biggest, fastest, or most athletic back, but I just go back to those midseason games last year when he was healthy and he was clearly the best player on the field at times. I still think a lot of people undersell his actual ability because of how much has been taken away as a result of the injuries that he has dealt with.
Especially if we limit the conversation to the 2020 season—which, to be clear, we’re not—it’s hard to imagine even a back taken in the second round coming in and taking many snaps at all from Conner as long as he is healthy. He is going to get 90 percent of the work as long as his body holds up. And frankly, any of the top backs who may actually be more talented will already be drafted by 49, in my opinion.