The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team, or more specifically an offense, which asks a lot out of their running back. This is by design, considering Le’Veon Bell, the NFL’s most versatile running back, has been the one in the backfield since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
However, when Bell elected to sit out regular season games and not sign his franchise tag tender, it opened the door for second year running back James Conner to step in, and step up.
Before the season, with heavy expectations on his back, the ongoing narrative surrounding Conner was his inability to pick up the blitz, and his lack of prowess in the receiving game — both areas Bell excelled in.
Conner is still a work in progress regarding the blitz pickups, but he has done more than enough to silence the doubters who think he doesn’t have the skills to catch the ball in the team’s scheme.
Throughout the 2018 regular season, Conner has tallied 26 receptions for 257 yards through the air. That comes out to just over 4 receptions a game, and equates to just shy of 70 receptions on the year. In terms of yardage, he is averaging just above 40 yards per game, and is projected to be around 700 yards receiving in a 16-game season.
Don’t look now, but those are Le’Veon Bell-type numbers there, and this for a back who couldn’t hold Bell’s jock strap in the receiving department.
While there still might be some who don’t think Conner can do everything Bell does/did with the team, Conner certainly has demonstrated a knack for the spectacular one-handed catch.
Take a look at this catch Conner reeled in on Tuesday’s practice leading up to the bye week.
After a one-handed catch, James Conner yells to camera, “I hope you got that!” pic.twitter.com/QHngAqF1dC— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) October 16, 2018
And who can forget one of the greatest catches which will never count:
James Conner made one of the greatest catches that didn't count ever— NFL Retweet (@NFLRT) September 16, 2018
Plain and simple, Conner has proven people wrong all his life, and is doing the same with the Steelers.
Conner can’t pick up the blitz? Sure has done a good job so far this season.
Conner can’t catch the ball like Le’Veon Bell? Show me a play where Conner hasn’t done everything Bell does for this offense?
The Steelers are lucky. They may have landed on another gold mine with Conner, and it couldn’t come at a better time with the Le’Veon Bell saga not nearing its end anytime soon. The hope is Conner continues his strong play, whether Bell returns or not, and there should be no doubt at this time of his overall capabilities within the offense.