Back on March 19th, Kenyan Drake left the Arizona Cardinals after spending one and a half seasons in the desert. The running back’s departure left a hole in the Cards roster that general manager Steve Keim still needs to fill. According to Spotrac.com, the club has roughly $14.6 million in salary-cap space, so a free agent addition to address the situation remains a possibility.
One of the most intriguing ball-carriers who’s still seeking employment is James Conner, a fifth-year NFL veteran. The 25-year old, who spent the past four campaigns with the Pittsburgh Steelers, would be a fine addition to the Arizona offense. Could Keim show interest in the former third-round draft pick?
The biggest knock on Conner has been his inability to stay healthy. The 6’1, 233 pounder has not yet played an entire 16-game schedule since he turned professional back in 2017. That may very well be the reason that the free agent back has yet to find work, but Conner’s impressive skill-set is hard to overlook.
Conner represented the Steelers in the Pro Bowl following an outstanding performance back in 2018. In 13 appearances (12 starts) that year, the University of Pittsburgh product rumbled for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Conner also tallied 55 receptions for 497 yards, and hauled in a seven-yard touchdown pass during a Pittsburgh victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
As a Steelers rookie in ’17, Conner rushed for 144 yards as the backup to starter Le’Veon Bell. In 2019, Conner racked up 464 rushing yards, 251 receiving yards and seven total scores in 10 starts for the team. Last year, the Pennsylvania native ran for 721 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, and caught 35 passes for another 215 yards in 13 contests (11 starts) for “The Black and Gold.”
At the moment, the number-one running back on the Cardinals depth chart is Chase Edmonds. The 24-year old’s lack of size (5’9, 205) could make it difficult for him to take on the role of a workhorse in the squad’s “Air Raid” scoring attack. The Cards also have Eno Benjamin and Jonathan Ward, two rookies from 2020, vying for playing time behind the explosive Edmonds.
Conner’s injury history could force him to accept a one-year, “prove-it” contract for the upcoming season. Those type of deals have been a specialty of Keim’s throughout his tenure with the Redbirds. Perhaps the red-hot GM can convince Conner that Arizona is the place to be in 2021.