James Conner’s Injury History a Concern for Fantasy Football Players

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With Le’Veon Bell off the team in 2019, James Conner was selected as a Top 10 running back in fantasy football but he fell way short of that mark. In fact, Conner was perhaps one of the biggest busts in all of fantasy last season as he finished as the No. 33 running back in standard formats and didn’t crack 500 rushing yards. 

Heading into 2020, Conner’s Average Draft Position is 44th overall and the No. 23 running back. Although the Steelers ran the least amount of rushing plays in 2019, Conner will remain a big factor in their offense but he has to stay healthy. He missed six games in 2019, three games in 2018 and two games in 2017. 

Can fantasy football players draft Conner with confidence? That’s the question we asked Sports Illustrated’s fantasy analyst Ben Heisler and AllSteers’ Noah Strackbein.

Read the full transcript from their conversation:

Bill Enright: Steelers running back James Connor missed six games in 2019, and that left fantasy football managers with a headache because his stats really suffered. Let's bring on Sports Illustrated's fantasy analyst, Ben Heisler and All Steelers reporter Noah Strackbein to get a breakdown of the Steelers running back. Noah, I'm going to go to you first because in 2019, the Steelers actually ran the least amount of rushing plays in the entire NFL, which isn't exactly the typical Pittsburgh Steelers' style of play. You would see a splendid kind of workload or at least a rushing balance going into 2020?

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Noah Strackbein: Yeah, definitely. That was one of the first things Mike Tomlin has said this offseason, is that he wants a better running game no matter how it has to happen. They went out and drafted Anthony Mcfarland this season. Really they're still relying on James Connor to be the number one guy, whether he has to take a larger workload or they have to add more Benny Snell or Jaylen Samuels or McFarland into the lineup. They're going to do so, but they do expect to run the ball a lot better this season.

Bill Enright: Ben, let me go over to you for the fantasy football analysis because it's hard to label someone a bust when they're injured. But given where James Connor was drafted last year and where he finished as a No. 33 running back, it's really kind of tough for fantasy managers to trust him again in 2020. Are you drafting or passing on James Connor this year?

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Ben Heisler: I'm drafting James Connor, Bill, because right now his average draft position is the running back 24 off the board. That's pretty remarkable, considering that he was the running back 6 just a season ago. Right now you're just seeing value. Well, from James Connor. I think part of that is because I'm buying the coach speak from Mike Tomlin when he says he views Conner as the feature back. Go back to 2012. That's the last time a Mike Tomlin team did not have a running back that rushed for more than 200 times in a season. So last year, of course, he was a mid-first round back. I think if he gets the opportunity in volume to stay on the field, he'll produce. The numbers indicate that nearly 2200 yards and 20 total touchdowns in 22 total starts over the last two years for James Connor. Especially in a contract year, I think this is a great opportunity to buy low and draft James Connor at a very decreased ADP.

Bill Enright: Noah, and Ben, we appreciate your analysis. Plenty more fantasy draft or pass insight for a lot of the NFL superstars. You can find it by going to SI.com/fantasy.