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How Good is James Conner–really?

Since Le’Veon Bell went to the Jets for “more money,” the Steelers run game has been mediocre–at best. Sure, in 2018, we had some great moments including James Conner nearing 1,000 yds (and scoring 12 Tds) and Jalyen Samuels going for 172 yards against the Patriots. But the simple truth is, the Steelers ran the ball less last year than in many of the years past, especially in crucial moments. Conner’s fumbles have been a problem, causing them to lose against the 49ers just last week. But he’s clearly talented. Top-tier o-line or not, the number of missed tackles he forced can not be ignored. Once he gets going, he’s one hell of a bowling ball…

Let’s keep rolling (pun intended) with this bowling ball analogy. In order to get a bowling ball rolling, there has to be a wind up. But once it’s going, it’s very difficult to stop. Now compare that to James Conner. Conner does not have breakaway speed, nor does he have top-tier burst or agility. Jaylen Samuels, on the other hand, is pretty solid on all three of those things. Samuels’ has shown much, much more burst in Year 2 while Conner seems to have gotten slower. Based on this, shouldn’t be Samuels be the long-term starter?

Not necessarily.

Here’s the thing. Once James Conner does get his wind up, he is near impossible to bring down. How does he get his wind up? With good blocks. Despite his seemingly normal running style, Conner has proven to be more dependent on a top-tier O-line than Le’Veon Bell ever was–but do not discredit what he can do with a few good blocks. Give him about 5-ish yards of space to wind up, and–ooooh babyyy–is he hard to stop. I doubt there’s a statistical category for this, but I’m willing to bet Conner has broken one of the most tackles in the NFL once getting past his line by a few yards. Catch him behind the line, though, and there is just nothing he can do. He’s got nice hands and RAC ability, but once again, only expect him to make big plays if he can get his “wind-up” in. In the end, he’s a good running back, but he’s far from perfect.

Whats the solution?

Give ’em a 50/50 split. Like we saw against the Bengals this past weekend. Let Samuels use his speed, agility, and quickness, and let Conner use his power when he can. It’s the best-case scenario.

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