8/11/18-James Conner, Not Le’Veon Bell Is The Running Back Of The Future

By: Mike Pelaia

He’s fast.  He’s strong. He’s explosive. He can average four yards a carry, break tackles and rush for 1,500 yards in a season. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and create space. His name is not Le’Veon Bell.

It’s James Conner.

Conner is the future of this teams running game and at the moment, he’s the present. Through the first few weeks of training camp and one pre-season game, Conner has shown why the Steelers won’t need Bell around here long term. He’s shown why paying a running back $14.5 million dollars a year is not necessarily the best plan of attack when putting together a roster and he’s shown why he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL draft. 

James Conner grabs a drink between reps in Latrobe

Conner is not a complimentary back, as he is currently tasked to be with Bell on the roster. He’s a full-fledged feature back. He’s capable of carrying the workload on a weekly basis and I fully expect him to do so in 2019 when Bell departs for (literally) greener pastures. 

And that’s not a bad thing Steeler fans, it can be extremely beneficial.  Conner, in a limited sample size last season before getting hurt, had 32 carries for 144 yards which is a 4.5 yards per carry average. 

I though last year and I think again, he’s capable of doing that on a weekly basis. Running behind one of the best offensive lines in football certainly doesn’t hurt but Bell has been doing that the last few years and his yards per carry are dipping. He’s aging a bit, his unique style of patience complimented with a burst of speed has been learned by opposing defenses and for the amount of money he’s collecting on the franchise tag, he’s not worth it. 

Sure, he makes big plays and is exciting, he can block and do all the intangibles but he’s also a headache for this team, a distraction and a risk (injury and suspension).

Conner has his head on his shoulders. He has the talent, he is battle tested in life and knows what it’s like to persevere. If you’re unsure what I’m talking about, try googling “James Conner Beat Cancer” and see what comes up.

He’s a good teammate, an example and a humble guy.  When sitting outside of the Steelers cafeteria in Latrobe, PA where player interviews are conducted during lunch hours, Conner buries his head in a hood, puts his headphones over his ears and looks the other way to avoid eye contact.  This isn’t a bad thing, this is the behavior of a guy who just wants to do his job well, avoid any attention and carry on with his day.

Bell on the other hand would rather make rap albums, post about his contract woes on Twitter (sorry Lev but nobody is feeling sorry for you there buddy) and make YouTube videos for his online reality show.

Conner getting ready to practice

Look, what Bell does in his downtime is certainly his business but when your day job requires you to be somewhere at a certain point in time and deliver on what you’re being paid millions of dollars to do, you need to show up and do it, period. Especially since the guy right behind you, Conner, can do a lot of what you can do for literally $14 million dollars less than you make on an annual basis right now. 

The upside of Bell isn’t worth the price tag and the headache he brings. So you may have a few less flashy plays and a missed block here or there, it’s still worth moving on to James Conner in 2019 and that’s exactly what the Steelers will do.







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