Now that the 2020 regular season 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 are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
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. 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 season as we move forward.
Player: RB James Conner
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Fresh off the Reserve/Covid-19 List, running back James Conner is set to retake the field in the hopes of helping to rekindle the Steelers’ rapidly fading running game.
Through the first 10 games of the season, James Conner rushed for 645 yards on 145 rushing attempts, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, with five rushing touchdowns. He was on pace to top 1000 yards on the ground, something that the Steelers have not had since Le’Veon Bell’s last season here in 1000.
Having missed the past two games because he was required to be in quarantine after testing positive for Covid-19 and being placed on the reserve list has knocked him off of that pace, but season-long numbers don’t win you individual games.
What is clear is that the Steelers’ running game needs help. They don’t need to run the ball more, but they do need to run the ball better, and getting their best running back on the field again cannot possibly hurt them as they try to do that.
Make no mistake, there are a lot of different, and overall largely minor, issues with the running game. Just getting Conner back isn’t suddenly going to make this unit look like Bell in his prime, or the offensive line in its prime half a decade ago.
But he is by far the closest thing that they have to a complete back, the closest thing that they have to somebody whom they can trust to execute every aspect of the offense demanded of the running back position, who can be used in all situations and be counted upon to contribute at a high level.
He rushed for 86 yards on just 13 carries in his last game before he had to go on the Reserve/Covid-19 List, on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He rushed for 80-plus yards in half of the games in which he has played so far this season. Can he do it in Buffalo against the Bills?