It has been clear for some time that if Le’Veon Bell ever were to leave the Pittsburgh Steelers, his heir apparent would be James Conner. The young running back has been showing signs of how good he could be, if given the opportunity, in practice for the last two seasons. Due to the extreme talent of Bell, the in-game touches were never there, but now Bell is absent and it’s Conner’s time. So, now we will find out how good he really is.
In college, Conner was an excellent prospect who dominated the Pittsburgh Panthers’ backfield from his freshmen year to the day he moved on to the NFL. From 2013-2016, Conner compiled 3733 yards with an average of 5.6 yards per carry. In 2015, Conner’s season was cut short because of an MCL tear and he was later diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He worked his way back from both and showed the toughness that intrigued NFL scouts all over the league.
In his final year at Pittsburgh, Conner finished with close to 1400 total yards and 20 touchdowns. He was drafted in the third round by the Steelers and hasn’t seen significant in-game run since. Bell, who has shown Hall of Fame ability since the day he became a member of the Steelers, was the definition of a “bell-cow” running back and Conner only had a total of 32 rushes for 144 yards in his rookie season.
Now, with Bell’s absence, he has nearly eclipsed those totals in the first week of the season. Conner rushed for 135 yards on 31 attempts and finished with two touchdowns. The new lead dog at running back took every carry but one in the game for the Steelers.
With such a great first performance, many fans and media members have begun to question if the Steelers even need Bell back. It is impressive that Conner was able to play so well in his first start, but Bell did it for years. It is hard right now to judge if Conner can sustain the success like Bell did. For now, we will all have to wait and see, but he is certainly off to a great start.