Name: James Conner
Position: Running Back
Pro Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
College Team: University of Pittsburgh
Draft Status: Round Three, Pick No. 105 Overall
- Height: 6’1’’
- Weight: 233 Pounds
- Hands: 9 7/8’’
- Arm Length: 31 ¼’’
- Bench Press: 20 Reps
- 40-Yard-Dash: 4.65
- 3-Cone: N/A
- Vertical Jump: 29.0
- Broad Jump: 113.0
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Conner’s tenacious running style sets him apart from most running backs, because he will gladly run over as many defenders as possible to pick up a few extra yards. He’s almost impossible to tackle in one-on-one situations due to his ability to lower his pad level and barrel through tacklers. His ability to move the chains on short yardage and goal line situations will make him a tremendous third down option at the next level. At 233-pounds, he has the size to be a three down back in the NFL and his size also allows him to generate extra force at the point of contact, making him impossible to arm tackle. His ability to maintain his balance while eluding tacklers helps him slip away from defenders for extra yardage. He has a nasty stiff arm that he uses to keep defenders at bay.
He led the team with 799 rushing yards and eight touchdowns during his freshman season. Conner then broke out during his sophomore campaign when he finished the season ranked seventh in the nation with 1,765 yards on the ground and third in the nation with 26 rushing touchdowns. He was a major contributor to the team that year, owning a 32.42 percent market share of the team’s offensive production.
Conner has a lot of heart and passion for the game. He missed almost his entire junior season due to a torn MCL and then later was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in December of 2015. In the off-season before his redshirt junior season, he successfully beat cancer and fully rehabbed his knee, allowing him to be readily available for the start of the 2016 season. During his “comeback” tour, he managed to rush for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns while catching 21 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns. He managed to own a 24.00 percent market share of the team’s offensive production.
He doesn’t have the speed to pull away from defenders in the open field and will often get caught from behind by while attempting to bust out long runs. Conner also struggles at accelerating before hitting the rushing lanes and lacks the ability to regain speed after changing directions. His lateral agility and short area quickness is also very limited due to his stiff hips. He’s a 233-pound power back who lives and dies by being able to run over defenders, so it’s not surprising that he’s not one of the most athletic running backs in his draft class.
Conner was used sparingly in the passing game during his collegiate career, catching just 30 passes for 412 yards and four touchdowns during his four-year tenure at the University of Pittsburgh. 21 of those 30 receptions came during his redshirt junior season when he was utilized more in the passing game. Even though he didn’t receive much work as a receiver out of the backfield, he does exemplify the capability of catching simple check down passes out of the backfield.
The Steelers spent significant draft capital on Conner with the intent of utilizing him as Le’Veon Bell’s backup. Bell has experienced a slue of injuries and suspensions in recent years and the team needed a talented option on the depth chart just in case he would experience another issue that would cause him to miss multiple games. Conner already has a distinct role with the team, making it easy for dynasty owners to gauge his usage during the early portions of his career.
Le’Veon Bell is the main threat to Conner’s dynasty value, considering that we need to bank on Bell to either go down with an injury or get suspended for Conner to receive a sizable workload. There’s a chance that Conner gets left behind waiting on the sidelines for his chance to receive a pronounced opportunity for a larger workload within the offense due to Bell’s ability to totally dominate while he’s in the game.
He’s going to be playing second fiddle to Bell during the first couple years of his career. There should be times where he receives enough goal line work to make him fantasy relevant, but those instances will be few and far between, making him a highly volatile option.
Bell’s longevity with the Steelers and history of missing games due to suspensions and injuries, are all factors that play into Conner’s long-term player value. If Bell were to ever leave Pittsburgh, Conner should become the focal point of the team’s rushing offense. Judging by his lack of speed and his limited use in the passing game during his collegiate career, his profile presents the notion that he has the potential to be a solid RB2 with RB1 upside in fantasy, if he would ever receive the role as the team’s three down back.
More than likely, he will be entertained as the team’s short yardage and goal line back and will be a part of some sort of a committee during the majority of his career. Even with limited touches, he can still be fantasy viable if he gets enough looks around end zone.
Amongst currently active players, Jeremy Hill draws the closet comparison to Conner. Both running backs are similar in size and athleticism. The main difference between the two players, is that Conner was more dominate in college and broke out at a younger age. When it comes to style of play, both players are rock-steady between the tackles and have a nose for the end zone. Conner however, is a better receiver which should present more opportunities at catching passes out of the backfield.
Projected Range for Rookie Drafts
Per DLF’s rookie ADP, Conner is currently being valued as an early third round option in rookie drafts with an ADP of 26.40. On average, he’s being selected as the 13th running back off the board in drafts. Landing spot is the main reason why he is falling in drafts, since he’s destined to be the Steeler’s backup running for at least the early stages of his career. There comes a point, where you must value talent over situation and Conner has the talent to eventually develop into a solid running back in the NFL. He may not score fantasy points for your dynasty team during the first couple years of his career, but he can become a desirable fantasy asset if he were to ever get a chance at a full-time feature back role for an NFL team. Given that, at his current price tag, he presents enough value to stash on the backend of your roster just in case he ever develops to his potential.