5 candidates to be the Steelers top running back in 2021

Kenneth Gainwell #19 of the Memphis Tigers. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Kenneth Gainwell #19 of the Memphis Tigers. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

James Conner

You probably weren’t thrilled to see James Conner’s name on this list, but this is something Steelers fans have to prepare themselves for. Yes, Pittsburgh has scoped out some of the top running back prospects so far in the 2021 NFL Draft, but they have also met with many players from other positions, and now that cornerback has become a massive need, that adds one more direction they could choose to go early in the draft.

We know who Conner is at this point. He is a solid all-around player who can offer a little bit of everything, but he isn’t particularly special at anything he does. Last season was the worst of Conner’s career, and he wasn’t very efficient as a runner. This no doubt had something to do with the offensive line and the ability to create space. However, even when he has been awarded good blocking and plenty of opportunities, Conner has failed to get much more than what was blocked for him.

At this point in free agency, I can certainly see a scenario in which James Conner returns to the team on a minimal salary as an insurance policy in case the Steelers miss out on some of the top running back prospects this year. If the team elected to sign the former Pro Bowl running back to play for another season, it would give Pittsburgh a little bit more flexibility in the draft. If they end up waiting until day-three to take their guy, Conner would likely be considered Pittsburgh’s RB1 in 2021.