James Conner to resume Steelers' 'featured runner' role

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner "is a featured guy and proven runner when healthy," head coach Mike Tomlin said.

What It Means:

“I’m a featured-runner type guy by mentality,” Tomlin replied when asked about his backfield plans for this season. "No question in today’s game, a featured runner needs to be supplemented and supplemented by guys who are capable of doing similar things in case he misses time...Usually when it’s going well, it’s because you have a lead dog out front, and that guy is the featured runner. James is a featured guy and proven runner when healthy. We’re excited about him getting back to health and displaying that in 2020." Tomlin added that Benny Snell is "capable of being a James-type of guy if James is unavailable." He also praised fourth-round rookie Anthony McFarland, but didn't mention Jaylen Samuels, Kerrith Whyte, or Trey Edmunds. Conner has missed nine games over the past two years, but it sounds like Tomlin is committed to feeding him the rock. His volume did dip from 20.8 touches per game in 2018 to 15.0 last year. That led to Conner's production falling from 113.1 to 71.5 yards per game while totaling 6 fewer touchdowns.

Conner averaged 12.9 FanDuel points per game last season, finishing as the RB18 among all backs to play at least half the season. His yards per touch fell from 5.4 in 2018 to 4.8 last season, ranking 36th among the 59 players with at least 6.25 touches per game. Conner also added the third-fewest Rushing Net Expected Points per play out of 45 backs with at least 100 carries.