James Conner Sounds Like A Steeler While Sounding Off To GMs

In an open letter to general managers around the league via an article in The Players’ Tribune, former Pitt running back James Conner sounded mature. He sounded confident. He sounded hungry. He sounded committed. And, dare I say it, he sure sounded like a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Not that it would exactly be a shock if the Steelers, who are in the market for a running back in order to work behind All-Pro Le’Veon Bell following their decision not to re-sign DeAngelo Williams after a mounting number of injuries and age catching up with him, were to draft the young man with whom they would have had so much familiarity already due to their obviously close proximity.

Head Coach Mike Tomlin has regularly built a rapport with Pitt players, who play their games in the same stadium, though it is an interesting fact that he has literally never drafted one. In fact, the last Pitt player that the Steelers have drafted was Hank Poteat in 2000. But they wouldn’t have to go far to find a prestigious alumnus, as they have one on on the staff in former Steeler Jerry Olsvavsky.

But this isn’t about Pitt, of course. And Conner made sure to point out that this isn’t about cancer, either. That’s how he opened his article, because it is the opening for so many conversations. “I’ve come to realize that me being a cancer survivor is something I’ll never get away from”, he wrote.

“But I’m writing you today to let you know that I am more than the guy who beat cancer. I’m writing to tell you some things that you don’t know about me”, he directed to those who may know nothing about him other than his battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

He talked about his background, and how he was a defensive end in high school. He talked about how he begged his mother for $50 that she didn’t have to allow him to attend a prospects camp at Pitt that he believed to be his foot in the door—which is proved to be, as he did so well he was offered a full-ride scholarship.

Once there, he bowled over people early in his college career. But then there was the knee injury. And then the dreaded ‘c’ word struck. And then he came back. But he came back, in his words, at “sixty percent. If that”. “That’s just real talk”, he said.

He talked about how his cancer treatments affected his ability to work out, and that he had just two months before the season to prepare. He was winded just coming out of the tunnel early on, but he built up strength as the season progressed.

He then proceeded to make the case for himself, saying that he was 100 percent healthy, including from his knee injury a couple years back. He has dropped his body fat, which was inflated due to medications taken during chemotherapy, from 18 percent when he started training for the combine all the way down to seven.

“I’m quicker than I’ve ever been”, he pointed out. But “no one’s ever gonna be psyched about having to tackle me. Bet that”. He described himself as a “tough, hard-nosed back who wears down defenses” and pointed out his abilities as a receiver and blocker to boot.

James Conner is not a man simply looking to overcome cancer to make it to the NFL. “I’m trying to make the Hall of Fame one day”, he said. He is dedicated to excelling at the next level with passion and intensity.

He is a powerful, physical runner with a complete skill set who is only now returning to peak physical ability. He is a leader and a high-character person off the field. He sounds like someone who would look good in black and gold.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Sam Clonch

    Can’t speak for Colbert, but he just got bumped up a round in MY eyes.

  • falconsaftey43

    I read his article, very good read. Love everything about the guy. Wish him the best wherever he ends up.

  • Conserv_58

    I’ll take a mature, intelligent, talented, humble and driven, Conner over, Joe Mixon any day because off the field issues will be non existent.

  • NW86

    I don’t know, this is just my personal opinion and I am not badmouthing Conner at all, we all know his backstory about the cancer, and I will still be rooting for him in the NFL. But I just don’t see how writing a self-promoting article in the Tribune bragging about how awesome you are actually helps your draft stock. I’m pretty sure the scouts have already seen those .gif plays he used, as well as 1000 others. I’m pretty sure they know most of his backstory, and I’m not sure the sad story about being only a 2-star recruit out of McDowell prep whose mom didn’t have a lot of money is much different than the backstory for most other prospects. But maybe I’m wrong, who knows.

  • Garrett Hunt

    Nice article!

  • capehouse

    I was surprised Gil Brandt gave him a 3rd rd grade, ahead of other RBs like Hunt, Mack and Gallman. If that’s the case he’s not going to be a Steeler.

  • Rocksolid20

    5th round or later would be ok . To many other needs to pick him higher .

  • Steel City Slim

    I’ve been pulling for him to be a Steeler for the longest. He would be a nice complement to Bell.

  • T3xassteelers

    I actually agree with both of you to an extent lol

  • Sam Clonch

    I’m not saying my personal rankings aren’t somewhat subjective, lol. Do think he’d be a good pickup day 3. Lot to like.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Good article, Matt! A really nice read.

    But I have to correct slightly just one thing you said. You ended by saying that: “He sounds like someone who would look good in black and gold.”

    I believe the correction should read: “He sounds like someone who would look PERFECT in black and gold.” Because he would.

    I’m really rooting for this to happen since he fits a need, is essentially a hometown kid (Erie/Pittsburgh), adds a bruiser mentality we like/need, should provide excellent value from where drafted, will be EASY to root for, will help sell a ton of jerseys, will provide natural inspiration, and will add a nice goal-line element that will help maybe get him involved early in his career. If he proves he really can catch the ball well enough, he’ll be a really great backup for Bell. His locker-room presence will be most welcome. The lack of off-the-field worry, is comforting. And his own natural comfort with the surroundings of Pittsburgh, will help to ease the transition that can be tough for some young guys.

    Yeah, this just all makes TOO much sense to actually happen. Someone will steal him out from under us. And I have a feeling just who that may ultimately be. Grrrr.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Having had Hodgkins lymphoma, it’s pretty impressive to get to this point.

  • Steelers12

    he is really growing on me hope he is a Steeler next week

  • Voice O’ Reason

    Yea, a lot of the comments suggest he’d be a good pickup in the 5th or later. That’s about where I am too. He’s not a speed demon, but I love his contact balance, his toughness and his story. However, you can’t completely disregard the medicals just because he’s a good kid who perseveres. Without the cancer history, his college career would have surely been even more impressive and he’d likely be a 2nd rounder or so.

    However, sometimes you also have to just throw logic out the window. I’ve had a feeling for some time that the Steelers were going to overdraft in order to get him. Notwithstanding that I’m a draft junkie with a slightly unhealthy obsession with draft value, I’d have no problem with it. Even if it takes one of the 3rd rd. picks, get that kid in here. He’ll be a great Steeler, I promise you that.

  • Voice O’ Reason

    I feel like you should be on the next segment of “C’mon Man!” with Chris Berman.

    C’mon, Man! He, and everybody in the draft process, knows the biggest question mark with him is whether he can come back from cancer and be the player he was. He’s just trying to help answer the question by providing examples of how he’s overcome struggles. He’s trying to convey the message that he won’t give up until he reaches that goal.

  • Brian Tollini

    I just think he is tired of being “the football player that had cancer”. He wants people to know that beating cancer isn’t the final chapter of his story. I have a feeling that writing this was more for him personally and less about self-promotion, but I do understand your point.

  • Boots

    RB is one of the few offensive positions I want addressed in this draft, and would love to be able to snag this guy. His downhill style power mixed with Bell’s patience could make a very good complimet to each other, throw in Knile’s speed and the RB position would be looking pretty versatile!

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Nope, give me Mixon over Conner unless you think the goal is not winning football games.

  • LucasY59

    I was going to say pretty much everything you said!

    I think there could be almost a fate/destiny thing that they get him in the 5th, but agree I would have a hard time waiting to get him then (will just depend on who else is available) would be totally happy taking him in the 4th and make sure they get him

    RB is a priority (IMO it is the first Offensive pick they should make) I think the skillset Conner has would fit great in the Steelers O, a guy that can run tough between the tackles but could also catch out of the backfield

    I agree with what he said about only being 60% (the knee and cancer recovery) and I think that along with his slower combine performance are what make him possibly available in the 6th (the RB depth in this draft should help make it happen as well)

    I also think that because he is still getting back to 100% he should be better as a pro than he was last yr, I think he could drop some weight like Bell did, which will make him quicker/faster, and learning behind Bell could develop some of the patience so that he could end up being the perfect #2 as depth for LeVeon

  • LucasY59

    speaking of Jerseys do you think he steals the #24 from the CBs or will he end up being the next in a long line of RBs wearing #34? (which would pretty much mean D-lo is done in Pittsburgh, …I wouldnt mind having both)

    I ask the question before he is even a Steeler, because it should be a forgone conclusion

  • LucasY59

    I would take Conner because he will be taken in the 4th/5th (vs Mixon in the 2nd/3rd) if they are both available in the 5th I would have a hard time passing on Mixon (but other than McCaffrey these are the 2 best fits for the Steelers #2 RB)

  • LucasY59

    …unless its the Pats, Rats, or Cinci

    but really totally agree, Great article Great player

  • colingrant

    If GM’s did their homework, they would know all about him and what he’s made of. His leadership, character, work ethic and drive preceded his bout with cancer. The cancer merely reinforced what was already there.

  • Roger G

    To whom this may concern:
    You may not know much (if anything) about me so allow me to introduce myself. Sure I may be several decades removed from playing football last, have a sore back, average at best agility and speed but optimistically I’m “fresh” with no football related injuries (no wear and tear) to speak of. Of course I’d gleefully be poked and prodded by your fine medical staff should there be any doubt on your part. No one will work harder than me as I would be the first in the building and last to leave daily putting in all the requisite work needed to excel. Furthermore I possess a high character and integrity. Rest assured (my personal guarantee) your team will suffer no off field issues or locker room disturbances with me. I WILL put this team first. Pursuance of me will be in this organization’s highest interest and agenda. The goal is mutual, this team wants a championship and I am that ever elusive missing piece to that puzzle. Warm regards. Go (insert team name here).
    My letter to all 32 teams

  • Roger G

    Check that I ain’t sending one to the Ravens or Patriots….ok nobody from the AFC North and Patriots

  • Voice O’ Reason

    Right? I mean, how can anyone not like what he brings? His character is just an added bonus. One thing though, you mentioned his pass catching ability, but last year was really his first taste of it. He only had a handful of catches before that, including his huge 2014. Then again, he carried the ball so much in ’14 (very successfully too), that there probably weren’t a whole lot of snaps left for passing situations with RB check downs.

  • Rotten Sircus

    Because the RB class is so deep we can grab both Conner in the 5th round and Nathan Peterman in the 6th. I think these 2 players are being slept on by other teams and could be the possible jewels in this draft !!!

  • LucasY59

    it is a small sample size, but at least he has shown some ability (and in an offense that will utilize him in that way, he will be even better) like you said his big 2014 season he carried the ball so much they didnt have him making any catches, their offense did have some big games this last season, so I think that shows he can function in that role

  • SoCal Steeler

    I have to admit that I was hoping to get a more talented RB but He’s gradually won me over. I doubt that there is a RB with more heart in the draft.
    It almost seems like it would be a travesty for him not to be a Steeler now. I wish he would’ve sent only 1 letter and he could’ve hand delivered it to Colbert and Tomlin, lol.
    I’ve been thinking he’d be available in the 5th-6th Rd. but now I’m wondering if you’d have to draft him in the 4th where I was hoping for a TE or Defense pick .

  • Matthew Marczi

    Mixon could go in the second round. I’d rather draft a backup in the fourth, or with the comp third.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’d like him in the fourth, but might use the third-round comp if necessary. They could trade the comp for an extra pick though and do some maneuvering.

  • Matthew Marczi

    They may not have known about how his medication affected his ability to retain muscle and excise fat though, and how he was able to drop all that body fat since beginning to train for the combine.

  • Jeff Papiernik

    Yes I agree with that. But I interpreted what he was saying as Conner over Mixon straight up. To which I say, heck no.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Agreed, there’s no question (at least in my mind) who is the more talented football player.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Yeah, his sparq web numbers, or whatever it’s called, are pretty horrific.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I do not like Connor as a starting back but for what we need him for I am good with drafting him.

  • steelersfan

    Yes please. This is going to be a fun draft. Can’t wait to see where he goes.

  • steelersfan

    if it’s the Ravens or Bungholes I’m going to need to wrap my house in bubble wrap.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Hoping for 34 so that I can finally put my 34 jersey back to use, rip off that Mendy name, and add Conner. Would be better than the current jersey gathering massive amounts of dust.

  • harlanjames

    Sometimes I think we forget the “contagion effect” of this choice. I mean, say Connor value is 6 and Mixon or Perine value is 8. How much Connor may elevate the teammates effort compared to Mixon/Perine ?
    It’s an important factor, in my opinion, for example on the OLine, as well for a quarterback. Does an OLineman give, even unconsciously, the same effort to protect or to open an hole for a arrogant QB or a slapping women RB ? If Connor as a person (besides the player) brings just a 0.5 plus value on each OLine man, his choice worth more than a Mixon or Perine one.
    Of course it’s just one of many aspects to take care when you draft a player, but in a team sport I think it’s not to be underestimated…

    PS: English is not my native language, so forgive me and I hope my thought is clear nonetheless…