Pitt alum and Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner has had an up-and-down career in the NFL, as he acclimated to the league in 2017, enjoyed a breakout year in 2018 and then saw his stats decline as the team as a whole endured a down year in 2019. But as far as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is concerned, Conner's status as the team's top running back remains intact heading into the 2020 season.
“We have players with unique and different talents, particularly at [the running back] position, as you mentioned, and we’re not opposed to utilizing all of those talents,” Tomlin said in a press conference on Tuesday. “All of that being said, there is no question about who our bell cow is. Our bell cow is James Conner, and he’s our primary ball-toter.”
Conner is coming off an injury-shortened season in which he ran for 464 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry over a span of 10 games. In the previous season, the Pitt product rushed for 973 yards, averaged 4.5 yards per carry and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his professional career.
While Tomlin is set on starting Conner and relying on him as his primary ball-carrier, Conner still faces competition from the likes of Anthony McFarland Jr., Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell, who are listed behind him on the Steelers depth chart. Specifically, Tomlin said he is not opposed to letting the situation dictate which running back he plays.
The 6’1”, 233-pound running back is entering his fourth year in the NFL and has accrued a total of 2,329 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns since the Steelers selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. He finished his collegiate career as Pitt’s second most prolific rusher of all time, with 3,733 career rushing yards and 56 touchdowns.