The Pittsburgh Steelers selection of running back James Conner in the 2017 NFL Draft probably didn’t shock very many people outside of the fact he was picked in the third-round. Now that he’s in the Steelers’ fold as a third-round draft pick, its virtually guaranteed the Pittsburgh product will make the 2017 final 53-man roster barring something totally unforeseen.
While Conner certainly has the ability to ultimately be the Steelers backup to starting running back Le’Veon Bell at some point in the near future, general manager Kevin Colbert indicated after this year’s draft was over that he’s interested to see what else his newest ball carrier can do to potentially help the team.
“Not a lot needs to be said about James Conner that everyone isn’t aware of,” Colbert started after the draft concluded. “But from a football standpoint, the thing that really attracted us about James was not only his ability as a runner but as any runner will have to do, in our situation, obviously with Le’Veon, they will have to contribute on special teams.
“I’m sure you are all aware that James used to do spot rushing, some spot pass rushing next door at Pitt. We aren’t saying he is going to be a pass rusher, but his demeanor when he does that, I’m just as anxious to see him cover a kick as I am to see him carry a football. He just has that demeanor, again, the character and the football character beyond compare.”
As Colbert pointed out, Conner was used very sparingly (reportedly 3 snaps) by Pittsburgh as a pass-rusher in 2016. In fact, as you can see in the clip below, he looked quite good doing it. Additionally, it’s worth noting that according to his college bio, that Conner was a highly productive runner and pass rusher at McDowell High School, earning accolades for both roles. He was selected All-State Class AAAA by the Pennsylvania Sports Writers as a senior running back and also named Pennsylvania Football News All-Class AAAA at running back his senior year and as a defensive lineman his junior year. He even set school records for sacks in a season (12) and career (17) at McDowell.
If that’s not enough, Pittsburgh’s running backs coach and special teams coordinator Andre Powell reportedly said ahead of the 2016 season that Conner approached him and asked to return kickoffs for the team.
“We want guys that want to do it,” Powell said at the time, according to Jerry DiPaola of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He won’t be the guy who is back there every time returning kicks, but he’ll be a backup. I wouldn’t hesitate to put him into the game.”
Despite his wiliness to do so, Conner ultimately never returned any kickoffs at Pittsburgh.
Conner, as if you needed me to tell you, is an all-effort player and willing to do anything to help a team. Not only will be it interesting to see how his NFL career turns out when it comes to him playing the running back position, it will also be interesting to see if he winds up being part of a Steelers special teams unit or two in 2017.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) October 15, 2016