5 running backs who could replace James Conner for the Steelers in 2021

Aaron Jones #33 of the Green Bay Packers. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Aaron Jones #33 of the Green Bay Packers. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette (28). Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Leonard Fournette

The last back would be a huge gamble and not their first option.  Sometimes gambles pay off. That would be Tampa Bay Running back Leonard Fournette, who is 6’0” and 228 pounds.

When he came into the league, Jacksonville had high hopes for him. He rushed for 1040 yards and 9 touchdowns. Then he got injured, missing three games. In 2018 he ended up missing half the season to another injury. He seemed to bounce back in 2019, rushing for 1152 yards and only missing one game. Then as a surprise, Jacksonville cut him just before the start of the 2020 season. Jacksonville coaches said after they brought in James Robinson and Devine Ozigbo they liked what they saw.  Coaches thought they would be a better fit than Fournette.

Not long after Jacksonville cut him, he landed in Tampa Bay.  When they signed him, one had to wonder what Tampa was thinking. They had just drafted Ke’Shawn Vaughn and had signed LeSean McCoy and had Kenjon Barner and Ronald Jones II. It was looking like running back by committee at the start of the season. Someone was going to sit on the bench with a deep backfield. Fournette has gotten some playing time, not a lot.  Ronald Jones has been the workhorse this season with 900 rushing yards. Fournette has 271 yards on 69 attempts. But he can be a power back when needed.

If Fournette can stay healthy for the bulk of a season as he did in 2019, then he could conceivably help the Steelers in the rushing department. He’s capable of rushing for over a thousand yards, although one has to wonder why Tampa has not used him more. On the flip side, he could be past his prime too. So yes, it’s a risk. Risks, though, can pay huge dividends. Jerome Bettis was going downhill with the Rams; then he found a new home, and it jump-started his career. It’s possible the same thing could happen here. Also, in three postseason games, Fournette had four touchdowns and three of them against the Steelers. Why not sign the guy who knocked you out of the playoffs. Plus, they could sign him for a bargain as well.

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Will the Steelers sign any of these players? Only time will tell. It seems all but certain James Conner will not or at least should not return to the Steelers in 2021. The Steelers need to make drastic changes to their running game. Either through the draft or a free agent, they will need to get someone that can get back to rushing 80 to 100 yards a game. How they solve the problem, though, is anyone’s guess.