Conner heads to Arizona

Steelers RB James Conner struggled but still showed his talent in 2021

Another piece of the NFL off-season puzzle locked into place Tuesday as veteran running back James Conner agreed to a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals. For the Cardinals, who were close to a playoff berth in 2020 and lost veteran Kenyan Drake in free agency, it gives them another weapon in the backfield.

Conner spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted him in the Third-Round of the 2017 draft. He was the team’s primary back for three years, beginning in 2018, which was his best individual season with 973 yards and 12 touchdowns, catching 55 passes for 497 yards and another TD. In four years, he produced 2,302 yards and 22 TDs, catching 124 passes for 963 yards and four TDs. But injuries limited his touches and games played.

In 2020, Conner finished 721 yards and six TDs, catching 35 passes for 215 yards. He started 11 games and appeared in 13 for the Steelers. That was good enough to finish as RB27, but the Steelers let him move on in free agency. Now, he joins a group of backs for the Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals’ top rusher in 2020 was Drake, who finished with 955 yards and 10 TDs. He signed a two-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders earlier in the off-season. Drake finished as RB16, splitting time with Chase Edmonds, who finished two spots ahead of Conner as RB25. Edmonds did most of his damage in the passing game, catching 53 passes for 402 yards and four TDs. He also added 448 rushing yards and a TD on 97 carries, both career highs.

Edmonds and Conner figure to be in line to split the load in 2021, but they aren’t the only backs in the mix. The Cardinals also return second-year back Eno Benjamin, who was a non-factor on the field in 2020. The team could also draft a running back later this month, all of which could limit touches for both Edmonds and Conner.

Edmonds knows the system and has demonstrated an ability to do a lot with limited touches. He’s the best backfield option for me, coming in as an RB3. Conner is an RB4 at present but could move up if the Cardinals don’t address the position further. Conner figures to be more of the grinder on the ground, but with quarterback Kyler Murray being a Red Zone threat, Conner’s upside is capped. Benjamin remains a Taxi Squad stash.

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.

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