RB - PIT
James Conner, one the final year of his rookie contract, said that it would be hard to leave Pittsburgh, the team that drafted him in 2017.
Drafted in the third round of 2017, Conner did little as a rookie but his opportunity arose in 2018 when superstar Le'Veon Bell held out for a contract dispute. Conner stepped up to the occasion and turned in 113 scrimmage yards per game and 13 touchdowns in 13 games. Unfortunately though, he was unable to reproduce those numbers in 2019 due to a litany of injuries to him and his quarterbacks. The Steelers drafted Benny Snell last year and Anthony McFarland Jr. this year, both in the fourth round. While neither of them seem equipped to take Conner's role as the Steelers' lead back, it appears as though the Steelers are testing the waters to move on from the oft-injured Conner after the 2020 season. Conner's wishes to stay would be great for his longterm value. He is listed as our 24th overall running back. Whwile this news shouldn't affect his value in redraft leagues, it makes his dynasty appeal a bit brighter. The Steelers have one of the best offensive lines in the league and Conner has proven that he can thrive behind them.
“I’m a featured-runner type guy by mentality,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin when he met with fans via conference call on Thursday and addressed the running back situation in Pittsburgh.
There had been reports that Tomlin wanted to reduce Conner’s workload, but that contradicts what he told fans yesterday. He went on to explain why he likes a featured runner. “I think that when you have a featured runner, it gives him the opportunity to drop a stake in the ground and allows others to rally around him, and it gives him a set of core base run plays that he specializes in, and you find a rhythm that way.” He acknowledged that in today’s game, a featured runner like Conner needs to be supplemented by other runners. The Steelers have a bevy of backs, Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels, and newly drafted speedster Anthony McFarland Jr. Tomlin is hopeful Conner can get back to his 2018 ways when he rushed for 973 yards and 12 TDs, while also catching 55 balls for an additional 497 yards and a score. It sounds like he’ll be the featured guy in 2020, with Snell Jr. waiting in the wings should Conner get hurt. Conner is ranked #25 in FantasyPros consensus RB rankings, and Snell should be considered his primary handcuff, although don’t be surprised if McFarland Jr. is utilized as well.
Ed Bouchette of The Athletic believes the Steelers will "cut back" James Conner's carries in 2020.
Conner is coming off an injury-riddled 2019 season in which he appeared in just 10 games. Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels are still on the roster and Pittsburgh also drafted Anthony McFarland in the fourth round. Conner is just a season removed from being a pro bowler but it is clear that the Steelers want a contingency plan for the contract-year running back. Conner should start the season as Pittsburgh's top RB but fantasy players should expect him to have a short leash.
Ed Bouchette of The Athletic said he "fully expects" the Steelers to draft a running back in the 2020 NFL Draft with James Conner entering the final year of his current contract.
The team could certainly still extend Conner ahead of the new season, but they could also be content with drafting a potential replacement given the current landscape of running back contracts. Conner has dealt with injury issues through his years in the league, but he has shown the ability to post RB1-totals when healthy and receiving a full workload. If the team spends a high pick on a running back it could signal more of a split backfield, which wouldn't be good news for Conner's fantasy value. For now, Conner is the RB22 in our expert consensus rankings.
James Conner (quadriceps) has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Ravens.
Conner exited Sunday's Week 16 loss to the Jets early with a quadriceps injury and has been ruled out for Week 17. With a playoff spot on the line, look for the Steelers to lean on Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels this Sunday. Conner finishes 2019 with 715 total yards and seven touchdowns across 10 games.
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