With 3 days to go until the start of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we continue our 30 predictions in 30 days series with another bold claim for 2019.
Alternating daily between myself and BTSC Editor Jeff Hartman, we will offer our forecasts for the upcoming season. Some will be team oriented, while others will be specific to individual players. Posing an argument for and against our predictions, we invite you to weigh in on the debate as well.
Following on from Jeff’s claim that James Conner will have 17 total touchdowns in 2019, I offer up another projection for the young running back this year
Prediction: James Conner will record more rushing yards in 2019 than Le’Veon Bell ever did during a single season in Pittsburgh.
Why it will happen: In five seasons with the Steelers, Le’Veon Bell surpassed the 1000-yard mark three times, his best single season rushing total coming in 2014 when he recorded 1.361 yards during his second season. In 2019, James Conner will eclipse that number.
Bell hit that target off the back of 290 carries and a 4.7 yard average five years ago, figures that are not too far out of line with the number of carries that Conner would have seen in 2018 if not for his injury. Back-to-back season of 4.5 yards per carry also suggests the young running back could achieve a similar total with the same number of attempts.
Running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league will not hurt Conner’s cause too much either, a unit that is notably improved on the group that blocked for Bell in 2014 if only because of their experience. However, while it might be fair to say that Alejandro Villanueva is an upgrade over Kelvin Beachum, Matt Feiler is not quite the player that Marcus Gilbert was back then.
Entering his third season in the league, it is reasonable to expect to see further improvement from Conner, and with the Steelers forced to adapt to the loss of Antonio Brown, there is every chance he will get more opportunities in 2019 if the offense opts to be less pass happy as a consequence.
Why it won’t happen: In a league where throwing the ball is king, the significance of the running game has declined annually and the total we are suggesting for Conner would have made him the NFL’s second leading rushing in 2018.
Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards last season and there a few teams in the NFL who throw on short yardage as much as the Steelers. Even five years ago, the chances of Pittsburgh running the ball when they need three yards or less were much higher than they are now and Conner is likely to struggle to record the number of attempts his predecessor once saw.
The Steelers outspoken commitment to lightening the load of their starting running has reared its head once again this offseason, and should they finally be able to put that into practice, Conner will never come close to touching 1,300 yards. The two talented young back behind him on the depth chart should also eat into his carries. And while we only have a small sample size to go on, Conners inability to stay healthy so far during his professional career cast doubt on any statistical projections.
What are your thoughts on this prediction? Do you think it will happen? Or are we crazy? Let us know by voting in the poll, and letting your voice be heard in the comment section below!
Will James Conner record more rushing yards in 2019 than Le’Veon Bell ever did during a single season in Pittsburgh? (1,361 yards)
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