James Connor Needs to Put His 2019 Injury Woes Firmly Behind Him

James Connor enjoyed a breakthrough 2018 campaign with the running back catching the eye during his second season with the Steelers. He missed just three games and was named to the Pro Bowl roster after putting up 12 touchdowns for 1470 yards. His performances helped to fill the void left by Le’Veon Bell, who was forced to sit out the entire campaign after contract negotiations stalled in the spring. However, the 25-year-old was unable to hit the same heights last season, and despite lofty expectations, injuries prevented him from recapturing the kind of form which saw him quickly become a fan favorite at Heinz Field.

Connor will be determined to improve his numbers in 2020, although he may need to take a step back in order to relieve some of the pressure which has been placed on his sizeable shoulders. He managed just ten appearances last season, although he has since acknowledged that he wasn’t fully fit in at least two of those outings. He clearly has the talent to succeed and is a quality runner, but the rigors of playing regular football have certainly taken their toll over the last twelve months.

This season, the Steelers appear to be well stocked in this department with Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, Kerrith Whyte, Trey Edmonds and Anthony McFarland all offering a similar service. The latter was a fourth round pick at the 2020 NFL Draft and is the latest player to arrive from Maryland. The former Terrapins man comes with glowing reviews from his college coach Mike Locksley who suggested that speed is his greatest asset. The Steelers now have five former Maryland players including Derwin Gray and Damian Prince, and this cluster is only likely to expand over the next couple of seasons. Plenty of college players from the mid-Atlantic state will be hoping to catch the eye once the college football season gets underway, however, they could find it tough as the Terrapins appear to have one of the toughest 2020 schedules, and will face Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State during the opening couple of weeks. The latter are currently 4.00 in the latest American football odds to win the NCAAF Championship and will be determined to bounce back after being defeated in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.

With a number of capable runners in the side, the Steelers may decide to work on a rotational system which would provide adequate cover, should Connor suffer any further setbacks. General manager Kevin Colbert has suggested that the Pennsylvania-born star will be the starting back come September, however, the coaches must make contingency plans should he suffered a relapse. Putting your trust in a player’s fitness is always a dangerous game, and Steelers fans will be fully aware of how fragile Connor’s body can be. With lower leg, knee and shoulder injuries all having been endured across the last couple of seasons, he’s spent more than enough time on the sidelines, and will be desperate to get a full set of fixtures under his belt this time around.

He’s also entering the final year of his rookie contract, and although he is Steelers through and through, if he suffers yet another injury-disrupted campaign, the franchise may decide that its best to move on. Whilst Connor has plenty to prove in 2020, the club must also ensure that he is utilized correctly, and isn’t placed under any unnecessary pressure. 2018 may seem like a lifetime ago for the running back, however, if he can get anywhere near those dizzying heights, it will surely be enough to earn him a new deal in Pittsburgh.