James Conner can never refer to the last few years as “boring.’
After an injury-plagued 2019 season, Conner is hoping to stay on the field and bring Pittsburgh back to the playoffs. From one Steelers running back to another, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis just outlined James Conner’s biggest ‘challenge’ for the 2020 season.
James Conner had a mixed 2019 season
After playing sporadically in 2017, James Conner got his chance in 2018 when Le’Veon Bell sat out the season.
Conner ran for 873 yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games, numbers which earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl. Expectations were high for Conner, who also caught 55 passes for 497 yards and a touchdown in 2018, entering last season.
Those hopes never came to fruition, as Conner totaled 464 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 10 games. Conner also turned 34 receptions into 251 yards and three touchdowns.
The overall numbers weren’t terrible — Conner averaged a healthy four yards per carry when he took the field — but he nonetheless took a step back. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs for a second straight season.
James Conner needs to have a strong 2020 season
James Conner has multiple reasons for wanting to stay healthy and improve on last year’s performance.
Most notably, Conner is a free agent after the year. A second straight down season will greatly hurt his stock on the market, whether he intends to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers or join another team.
Pittsburgh also has several younger running backs on the roster. Although Kentucky running back Benny Snell only averaged 3.9 yards per carry as a rookie, he flashed at times and could have a bright future.
Jaylon Samuels has averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt in two seasons. The Steelers still sound high on him, though.
Kerrith Whyte Jr., a former standout alongside Buffalo’s Devin Singletary at Florida Atlantic, totaled over five yards per carry last year and has special teams experience.
Jerome Bettis explained Conner’s biggest challenge this year
Jerome Bettis, a legendary Steelers running back in his own right, wants James Conner to succeed.
However, Bettis knows Conner’s game is far from complete. In a recent interview with UPI, Bettis explained what he feels Conner’s biggest challenge will be this season.
At the same time, Bettis said the challenge isn’t one that Conner should shy away from facing.
“His challenge is to stay healthy. He has all the tools to be a very special running back. He just has to get in 16 weeks and then you will see the finished product.”
The pursuit of that goal begins September 14, when Pittsburgh plays the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.