Signing of James Conner is lukewarm at best

Nov 10, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) warms up before playing the Los Angeles Rams at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 10, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) warms up before playing the Los Angeles Rams at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The signing of James Conner is frustrating. This is another of those “Keim gonna Keim” moments that make you scratch your head. This team and general manager seem to have some sort of affinity or players with injury histories. A.J. Green, Robert Alford, and now James Conner. Yes J.J. Watt is in that boat too, but he’s my favorite acquisition this year, and A.J Green grew on me.

Instead of old and injured, it’s now young and injured. I had enjoyed my argument of trying to convince the world that the right person for the job was (and frankly, still is) Kenyan Drake.  But this is like picking the scab off once again. Take a look at Conner’s stats, and tell me where is the benefit?

Rushing & Receiving Table

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/13/2021.

Here’s another look at their career stats head-to-head.

Totals Table
1James Conner2017202022505322302224.35912496347.829
2Kenyan Drake2016202029776953130274.580169124467.452

Provided by View Stathead Tool Used
Generated 4/13/2021.

If you want to read why Kenyan Drake should still be the Cardinals RB1, then you can check out my previous articles. While there is an advantage of an extra year in the NFL for drake on this comparison, we see that he’s been just that much more consistent than Conner. 800 more yards rushing and 300 more receiving better than Conner makes Drake the champion here. In 2018, Conner’s best year to date, his top 3 rushing games came against Cleveland twice, and Cincinnati. Both these teams were ranked 21st and 30th respectively that year.

Don’t get me started on the “well Conner is cheaper” thing either. In this league, you get what you pay for (Cam Newton 2020 Patriots is a prime example). If Drake had this new offensive line that Conner is getting, would everyone still have the same excitement? My guess is no, as the fanbase hated on their best RB’s performance in five years. What’s wrong with rewarding the guy who kept the team in so many of the games down the stretch, regardless of the yards he had?

On top of ALL of this is the fact that if they’re actually going to use Conner and Edmonds (a tandem that’s as boring as driving in rush hour traffic), where and when will Eno Benjamin get a shot to at least TRY to get some carries or playing time? How hard can that be? This also affects the draft, as this certainly puts to rest any chances of taking a RB early. So Steve Keim is basically telegraphing his strategy to the league in drafting a cornerback. Keim would’ve been better off drafting Najee Harris or Travis Etienne if the position was in dire need of someone new.

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Maybe James Conner can be more physical in between the tackles, or finish runs in bounds with a hit, instead of running out like Drake had a habit of. But does he have the breakaway speed to turn the corner in a zone heavy run scheme (if it’s the same as last year)? The longest rush of his career is only 59 yards. Can he make a man miss at the C gap? If he does, then this offense will flourish, along with if the team learned what a counter play is and gave the offensive line some help on the edges.

We’ll just have to wait and see. Until otherwise, James Conner is a lukewarm signing at best.