Turning professional athletes into analysts and broadcasters has been hit or miss over the years, to say the least. Some truly great players have proven to be awful analysts with little insight into the game beyond their own scope and with poor journalistic chops in terms of doing research on what he is asked to discuss.
I’m not saying where former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew falls, but I will say that the NFL has turned over analysis of the running back position to him over the years principally because he is a name, and not because he is the most qualified for the job.
Anyway, this time, Jones-Drew actually includes Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner on his list of the top 15 running backs in the NFL right now as we head into week five, and this is based almost entirely off of two games, since he was injured in week one and their week four game was postponed. He writes:
Conner is averaging 97.5 scrimmage yards per game in 2020, up from 71.5 last season. He’s shown in spurts that he’s still the RB1 we saw in 2018 when Le’Veon Bell held out, but Conner is already a little banged up. Health was his No. 1 nemesis last season, as he struggled to stay on the field. A week off should help him heading into Sunday’s clash with the Eagles, and the Steelers need him to keep their balanced attack strong moving forward.
So far this season, Conner has rushed for 224 yards on 40 attempts with two rushing touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He has also caught eight passes for 63 yards. He totaled 149 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ last game against the Houston Texans, and had 121 yards from scrimmage the game before that.
When he left the opener with an ankle injury after having carried the ball just six times for nine yards (with two receptions for eight yards), a resounding ‘here we go again’ swept the fanbase. The angst was delayed thanks to Benny Snell’s fine performance, rushing for over 100 yards himself, but Conner returned the following week no worse for the wear.
Jones-Drew is right, as anybody who has been informed would know, that health has been his main hiccup. When he has been healthy, even last season after suffering a lingering shoulder injury, he has shown bursts of ability that make him look like he is the best player on the field.
Still, the Steelers are looking to find ways to mix it up in the backfield. He only played two thirds of the team’s snaps in their last game, with Snell, Anthony McFarland, and Jaylen Samuels being worked into the mix here and there. Conner himself has said that the depth behind him has been nice to have and could help keep him standing.