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: James Conner is angling toward a Pro Bowl season.
Explanation: His statistics may not be eye-popping right now compared to some other backs in the league, but there are still a lot of teams who have not had a bye week yet, and he also missed most of the opener. He ranks in the top 10 among running backs with 50 or more rushes in first-down percentage, and is in the top 10 in rushing and rushing touchdowns, despite the opportunity deficits.
James Conner has 368 rushing yards on just 75, averaging nearly five yards per carry, and has scored a touchdown on the ground in now four straight games, giving him four on the season. Those are very solid numbers over five games—and then consider that almost all of it came over four games.
He often looks like the best player on the field when he is out there, and surprises with his elusiveness. He doesn’t make every play that there is to make, but he makes enough of them to keep defenses honest, and he has been able to close out games pretty consistently as well.
Pro Bowls don’t really consider closing out games and things like that, however. They look at statistics first and foremost, and Conner is already behind several AFC backs, including a couple of his AFC North rivals, and of course Derrick Henry.
There won’t be an actual Pro Bowl this year, by the way, which means there won’t be any ‘alternate’ players getting into the Pro Bowl, so there will be fewer than there have been in a very long time, another thing to consider.
Another factor is the fact that the Steelers haven’t really been using Conner or any of their running backs in the passing game very much. He has just 11 receptions for 84 yards, averaging a little over two receptions per game for 17 yards. You have to make an impact in the passing game as a running back in this age.