James Conner’s NFL career took a step backwards on Day 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft, because his starting running back doesn’t like to give other people what’s his.
Saying Le’Veon Bell doesn’t like to share isn’t as straight forward as it sounds. The running back isn’t standing on the sidelines complaining about not being in the game when Conner, or any other running back is on the field.
But the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t like to give anyone but their golden child a chance at the position. Not Conner. Not DeAngelo Williams. Not Jaylen Samuels.
Pittsburgh now has one of the best backfields in the league. Not that they didn’t before, but now, they have three young players who can add every element of a successful backfield to a trio of rotational touches.
Give Bell the bulk of the load and add his receiving ability to the mix, like usual. Bring Conner in for short yardage, up the middle, rushes where he can hammer his way for five or six yards. And give Samuels touches as a receiving back, or bring him in for a wildcat formation and let him to what he does best – everything.
The Steelers have no interest in working with more than one running back, though. Even if Conner wasn’t as developed as they would’ve liked, and his late season injuries kept him off the field, there was no reason for Bell to touch the ball 400 times in the year.
Because of this, James Conner’s career is headed in the wrong direction. Samuels is exciting and brings running and catching ability to the pros. He’s more of an NFL styled running back than Conner is. This is going to put him ahead of the Pittsburgh hero on the depth chart.
Conner would work perfectly in a backfield combination. He’s not a starter in the NFL, but he’s a quality backup. But Bell’s workload is too extensive to provide decent touches to one backup, let alone two.
So, when Mike Tomlin and Randy Fichtner are designing the depth chart, they’ll look at Conner as the No. 2, but his reps won’t say the same. Pittsburgh’s offense is designed to throw the ball, and Samuel’s ability to play out of the backfield or in the slot make him much more compatible with the scheme than Conner’s skill set.
In a normal offense, with normal running backs, James Conner would work perfectly as the redzone and short yardage threat. He’d be every fantasy football owners’ greatest gift and worst nightmare.
But in Pittsburgh, he’s looking at a lot of time starring from the sideline. It’s not his fault, or even Le’Veon Bell’s. He’s just in a situation with a coaching staff who loves to use the league’s best running back, on every play, and leave everyone else on the bench.
That might change with Samuels adding two elements. But for Conner, his role isn’t increasing in his sophomore year. It’s decreasing because of a late-round, do-it-all back that’ll get his five touches a game, and leave Conner with none.