With just under three months to go until the start of the regular season, it would appear that most pundits have already written off the Pittsburgh Steelers chances of success in 2019. And if all the top 100 lists and power ranking are to be believed, the team will not only lack star power this year, but will be lucky avoid a losing season for the first time since 2003.
Having recently predicted that Pittsburgh would win just seven games this season, it would be fair to say that NFL Network analyst and former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew does not have much regard for the Steelers. A vocal supporter of Le’Veon Bell during his holdout who acted as a spokesman for him in public, Jones-Drew has often been quick to criticise the organization at any opportunity.
With that in mind, we probably should not have been surprised by his latest running back rankings released on Tuesday, but seeing Pro Bowl selection James Conner at No.14 on his list was something of a surprise even for Jones-Drew. His reasoning for the move equally unconvincing.
“Ben Roethlisberger is another year older, and Antonio Brown is in Oakland. The Steelers must run the ball early and often, and Conner is their guy, even though recent reports suggest that there will be a committee of backs getting in on the action. He held his own last year -- ranking sixth in the league with 113.1 scrimmage yards per game -- but he’ll have to be better to account for the loss of other weapons. The third-year pro will also get help from a great offensive line.”
New York Giants second-year player Saquon Barkley earns the top spot, while Alvin Kamara of the New Orleans Saints comes in at No.2, while Le’Veon Bell is inexplicably listed at No.3 despite appearing to have spent most of 2018 on a jetski or in a club. Despite leading the league in rushing last season, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott comes in fourth and the league’s highest paid player at the position in Todd Gurley is listed in sixth position.
Among the more shocking names to see ranked ahead of Conner are Aaron Jones (13) of the Green Bay Packers who finished the 2018 season with just 728-yards and 220-yards receiving, Kerryon Johnson (12) of the Detroit Lions who recorded 641-yards rushing and 213-yards receiving before injury ended his season prematurely, and Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (10) with his 615-yards on the ground and 305-yards receiving last year.
By comparison, Conner’s 973-yards rushing, 497-yards receiving and tying for third at the position with 12 touchdowns through 13 games would seem to warrant a bit more credit from Jones-Drew, but that would probably not fit with his agenda.