James Conner captured the imagination of Pittsburgh Steelers fans during the 2018 season, imagining the possibility of things to come. Taking over for the no-show Le’Veon Bell that year as a second-year player, the local product rushed for about 1000 yards with another 500 or so coming through the air, totaling 13 scores in 13 games played, making the Pro Bowl in the process.
The fact that he missed three games with a high ankle sprain, however, was a concern, after ending his rookie season on injured reserve with a torn knee. He also had a serious injury in college. It was little surprise to fans when he played through the bulk of the 2019 season banged up, if he was on the field at all.
Conner, a third-round pick in 2017, is now entering the final year of his contract, and even though the Steelers already have five running backs returning from last season’s 53-man roster, they still used yet another mid-round draft pick—the fourth in as many years—on yet another ball carrier, this on Anthony McFarland.
It all seems to be setting up for the idea that he is in his final season in Pittsburgh, with Benny Snell, McFarland, and perhaps Jaylen Samuels or Kerrith Whyte continuing on into 2021 and beyond in the Steelers’ backfield.
The Pitt product is very aware of this fact, and he made reference to it on Instagram this week, posting a black-and-white image of himself walking off-frame, all on his own, in the end zone. The captain read, making reference to the Michael Jordan documentary series, “they talkin like it’s my last dance…..”
Will it be? Who knows? The only thing we know for sure is that we can’t rule it out as a possibility. It would be, let’s say, very surprising if the Steelers do any contract extensions this offseason for anybody playing on their rookie contract at this point, so he would be heading for unrestricted free agency in 2021.
And what his market will be next Spring will be determined by what he does this season, and how he does it—particularly, if he does it while healthy. needless to say, any potential employer is going to want to see somebody who is able to show up and perform his job as often as possible.
Through three seasons, Conner has missed 11 games so far, and has played through injuries in many others. He was fortunate that his season-ending knee injury during his rookie year came toward the end of he season, or he would have missed a lot more than two games.
Limited to only 10 games last year due to multiple different injuries, Conner rushed for 464 yards and four touchdowns on 116 carries, adding 34 receptions (on only 38 targets) for 251 yards and three more touchdowns. He only fumbled once, but it was a costly one in Week Three.
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