Did Steelers RB Benny Snell leapfrog James Conner on the depth chart?

Benny Snell Jr. was the only running back to churn out consistent yardage in the Steelers game against the Giants. Should he be ahead of James Conner on the depth chart moving forward?

Who would have guessed that just a week into the 2020 NFL season, Benny Snell Jr. would be third in the league in rushing? That’s where we currently stand. The Steelers second-year running back was thoroughly impressive upon entering the game for the injured James Conner, and Snell certainly didn’t take his opportunities for granted.

Early in the Steelers contest against the New York Giants, nobody could run the ball. Saquon Barkley was stonewalled by Pittsburgh’s defensive front, and Conner certainly didn’t impress. After running for just 1.5 yards per carry on 6 attempts and earning a long run of just 3 yards, the former 2018 Pro Bowl running left the game with an ankle injury.

Despite this being Week 1, an injury to James Conner hardly comes as a surprise. Conner missed 6 games last season and 11 in the first three years of his career. Surprisingly, however, the Steelers run game got infinatly better once Conner was out of the lineup.

Benny Snell took the reigns for Pittsburgh’s backfield and never looked back. Though he carried the ball 19 times, Snell managed 113 rushing yards and averaged a whopping 5.9 yards per carry. In addition, his 30-yard run was quite literally 10-times longer than any run James Conner had on the night.

Should the Steelers roll with Snell moving forward?

After all of Snell’s success in Week 1, it certainly makes you wonder if he should be receiving a larger bulk of the action in the backfield. While Conner has proven to be a serviceable starter for the Steelers over the past two years, Snell was clearly the superior runner on Monday night. His ability to sniff out the holes and run through contact make him a realistic candidate to take over as Pittsburgh’s every-down back.

Most importantly, Snell has a very short injury history dating back to the start of his college career. Snell was able to suit up for every game over a three-year span for Kentucky despite carrying the ball an average of 18.9 times per game over that span (737 carries in all), according to Sports Reference.

But anymore, it’s not only his durability that makes Snell a better candidate for the lead running back job in Pittsburgh over James Conner. Snell backed what reporters have been claiming about him all offseason. He appeared to be in terrific shape and there was a noticeable bounce in his step that wasn’t there last year.

That isn’t to say that Snell suddenly became a terrific athlete, but he is well on his way to making a second-year leap for this team. If he continues to impress, it will be hard to keep him off the field.

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James Conner is still a solid football player, and he deserves to touch the ball when he returns to the field. However, if Snell can continue to be more efficient and productive than Conner, then I don’t see a reason why he shouldn’t become the number one running back on the depth chart this year.

 

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