If we learned anything from Le’Veon Bell‘s rejection of a long-term contract this week it’s that many fans feel the Pittsburgh Steelers are in good hands with rookie James Conner regardless.
Whoa. Can we slow down a bit here?
I have no problem with having high expectations for a rookie but we need to be fair to Conner. First of all, he isn’t Le’Veon Bell. He isn’t in the same atmosphere as Bell as an on-field talent and for fans to say “we’ll be OK. We have Conner” shows a tremendous lack of awareness and vision. I saw that sentiment on social media a lot this past week.
This line of thinking will continue however throughout Training Camp because I fully expect Bell to skip it. That means Conner, along with Knile Davis, Fitzgerald Toussaint and company will get plenty of reps. We should not however view this as some sort of ‘coming out party’ for Conner.
For the sake of fans already cursing me let me put it this way. If James Conner enters the season as the number two running back (which is no guarantee) how many touches do you think he may have throughout the season?
Last year, DeAngelo Williams played in nine games and had a total of 216 touches between rushes and receptions. 80 of those touches came in the first three weeks and another 26 came in the season finale against Cleveland. Williams would miss a good portion of the season due to injury but when Bell was active he only had 18 touches total.
What does this mean for Conner? Think about it. If the Steelers use Bell at the same rate they have so far and with Martavis Bryant back on the field, how many times can we really expect Conner to touch the rock? I believe a fair number to expect is around 65. Obviously that could change based upon any number of factors but I believe it to be realistic.
The high expectations for Conner are understandable to a point. He’s a Pitt kid who spent his college years in the same facility as the team he’s with now. He battled and defeated Hodgkin’s Lymphoma valiantly and quite publicly as well. To top it all off, he’s a great young man who has garnered so much respect that he has the number one selling jersey right now among all Steelers and third league-wide.
Unfortunately, that last part is also where the danger exists. Fans are expecting great things from him but we must temper those for the time being. Let’s allow him to get his feet wet first and get himself acclimated with being a professional football player before we start thinking of him as the next great Steelers’ running back.
After everything Conner has been through he deserves our patience. The high expectations can come later.
Stats courtesy: pro football reference
Photo courtesy: Today Times