There are not many backfields that will come with as much stress during fantasy drafts as the Steelers. Injuries, a possible committee, and a lack of practice time will make for some difficult fantasy decisions.
The Steelers have always been a feature running back team. However, in the last two years, it has been tough to depend on James Conner to play a full season. Injuries were a problem for most of the Steelers running back room last season at one time or another. This is why James Conner should be viewed as a handcuff this season if Benny Snell falls to the late rounds of drafts.
Conner has a power running style with the ability to make some opponents miss but not elite tacklers. This leads him to lean on his strength to pick up to the tough yards. This style likely led to his nagging AC joint injury that basically ended his 2019 season.
Conner’s first big fantasy season was in 2018 according to Fantasy Data’s website. Over the course of 12 starts, Conner ran for 215 attempts, 973 yards rushing, and little talked about 497 receiving yards. This added up to 225 total fantasy points that season and 17.5 points per game, according to Fantasy Data. Conner was unstoppable in 2018 before knee issues derailed his season.
2019 did not treat Conner nearly as well. He only started in 10 games and battled a bad AC joint. According to Fantasy Data, he only posted 111 total points last season with 11 points per game average. In his 10 games on the field, he racked up over 10 points in a game just five times, and over 11 points just three times. There was a heavy regression between the two seasons with only two more games started in 2018.
The Steelers coaching staff seems to believe in Conner by not going with a running back in day 1 or 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft. He has had time to heal his shoulder and is posting a constant stream of workouts with JuJu Smith-Schuster. All signs seem to point to a bounce-back year but his body is going to have to withstand the punishment.
Benny Snell Handcuff
James Conner is clearly the guy that will go first in fantasy drafts but it would be smart to have contingency plans in place. Benny Snell is an apple that does not fall far from the Steelers tree of power running backs. He brought the Kentucky Wildcats football program back into the light with a heavy workload in college.
Snells’ rookie season he only carried the rock 108 times but there were some moments to make fans look to the future with excitement. The rookie did not start any games of the 13 he was active in but still had three games where he averaged over 4 yards per carry on over 15 attempts as per Fantasy Data. Snell also had four games where he rushed for over 60 yards while Conner only had one in 2019.
Benny got better as the season went on after having his two best games in the final five weeks. His two best games were after his knee surgery as well. This shows he can bounce back from short term injuries and still produce.
If you draft James Conner, you need to be eyeing Benny Snell in the late rounds for a safety net. Anthony McFarland is intriguing but there is too much left to prove to use a mid to late-round fantasy pick on him.