Now that the 2020 offseason has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, 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 season, and with notice to anything that happens going forward.
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
I’m sure there is going to be disagreement about my evaluation here, but my reading of the 2020 NFL Draft is that it plays in James Conner’s favor. The Steelers passed on the opportunity to draft a running back in both the second and third rounds, and they did have their options, including having J.K. Dobbins on the table in the second round.
Reporters asked Kevin Colbert about why they passed on Dobbins, and aside from talking about how much they liked Chase Claypool, the team also talked about Conner and the fact that they still fully believe that he is more than capable of being a Pro Bowl running back, who just had an injury-plagued season in 2019.
Playing in just 10 games—and some of those only parts of games—he only recorded 116 rushes in 2019 for 464 yards, with four touchdowns. He added another 251 yards and three touchdowns on 34 receptions, totaling 715 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in 328 offensive snaps, or about one third of the team’s total offensive snaps last season.
Perhaps the biggest clue about what the Steelers think about Conner is the fact that the running back that they did draft is rather unlike him. When the team talked about Anthony McFarland out of Maryland, they repeatedly talked about him in terms that indicate he is a complementary piece rather than a featured runner, and that he adds something to the running back room that they didn’t have, not that he is replacing something already there.
Now, does that mean that Conner is going to have a great and/or healthy season in 2020, or even that the Steelers are going to assuredly push to sign him to a second contract after this year is up? No, and frankly it’s still hard to see that happening unless all the other running backs just look bad this year.