New Steelers RB James Conner Was One Of The Most ‘Explosive’ FBS Runners In 2016

In general, it’s not too surprising that the Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately selected former University of Pittsburgh running back James Conner during the 2017 NFL Draft last weekend. However, what was a little surprising is the fact they took him in the third-round. While several will analyze the Steelers selection of Conner as a bit of a reach, the more you look at his college tape the more you can see why they took him in the third-round.

Conner, who measured in at this year’s scouting combine at 6014, 233-pounds, ran his 40-yard-dash in Indianapolis in 4.65-seconds and that’s considered slow when compared to most of the other high-profile running backs in this year’s draft class that were invited to the annual event. However, Conner’s 4.31 short-shuttle time that he registered at his pro day was respectable when compared to that same group of players.

While Conner might not be blessed with blazing speed or cat-like agility, you might be interested to know that he was one of the most explosive FBS running backs in 2016. By explosive I mean runs of 20 yards or more and Conner had 19 such gallops for Pittsburgh during the 2016 season.

In total, there were 27 FBS running backs selected during the 2017 NFL Draft and when you look at the explosive runs of 20 yards or more each of those players registered during the 2016 season, only Donnel Pumphrey (23) and Aaron Jones (20) had more than Conner (19) did. Conner also registered 32 total runs of 10 yards or more during the 2016 season and of the seven running backs who were drafted ahead of him last weekend, five of them registered more than he did.

In case you’re curious, Conner registered 110 runs of 10 yards or more on 668 total carries at Pittsburgh and 39 total runs of 20 yards or more.

I was able to find 16 of Conner’s 19 total explosive runs from the 2016 season and have them compiled for you to watch in the video below. While watching the video, make sure to notice how many yards Conner gets on each of the 16 runs after first contact is made with him.

2017 Drafted FBS Running Backs 2016 Explosive Plays

FBS RB 2016GAttYardsAvg.TDLong1st10+20+
Donnel Pumphrey1434921336.111779905923
Aaron Jones1222917737.741783624420
James Conner1321610925.061640493219
Joe Mixon1218712746.811079533317
D’Onta Foreman1132320286.281574984916
Brian Hill1434918605.332266724316
Joe Williams921014076.71082583815
Jeremy McNichols1331417095.442380753515
Christian McCaffrey1125316036.341390693914
Dalvin Cook1328817656.131975775113
Marlon Mack1217411876.821585483012
Jamaal Williams1023413755.881262573412
Samaje Perine1019610605.411266452910
Matthew Dayes1324911664.681054552710
Elijah Hood111458585.9286240339
Kareem Hunt1326214755.63104772499
Wayne Gallman1523211334.88175948288
T.J. Logan131206505.4273533247
Leonard Fournette71298436.5387830207
Khalfani Muhammad111528275.4425045286
Elijah McGuire1323211274.8676855296
Alvin Kamara111035965.7993928195
Chris Carson9825596.8292626223
Devante Mays53725973661092
Sam Rogers13672834.22232621
Brandon Wilson1461.504000
Marquez Williams111101100

  • 20Stoney

    Nice article Dave.

  • Spencer Krick

    That stiff arm is pretty fantastic. You wouldn’t happen to know what his yards after contact stat is, do you?

  • harding36

    Great vision. Nice one cut runner who sees his blocking, puts his foot in the ground and hits the hole.

  • Voice O’ Reason

    Thanks for compiling these clips. I find myself getting pumped for the season just watching this kid run. However, I’m not sure runs of 20 yards equate to explosiveness. There are different ways a player can have a lengthy run. One is bursting through a hole with quickness and agility, finding daylight and accelerating. That’s what I call explosion. That is not how James Connor does it. James lumbers through a hole and imposes his will on defenders who bounce off of him and/or get run over. I love that. Steelers’ fans will love that. I think he’ll still be a good player and a fan favorite, but explosive he is not.

  • SteelersDepot

    in this instance and as the article states, explosiveness is defined by 20 yards or more as in explosive plays.

  • Rotten Sircus

    I love how Conner looks for the contact but he’s gonna need some juke to withstand the NFL ! I was satisfied with this pick !!!

  • Don

    You think the team will want him to shed some weight like they did with Lev?

  • Voice O’ Reason

    I get that. It’s all semantics really, and my opinion is unimportant at best. I just don’t necessarily agree with calling a 20+ yard play (or a player who has a 20 yard play) explosive. I think it’s more accurate to look at the way the 20 yards was obtained.

    Whatever we call it, I’m getting a Connor jersey ASAP.

  • SteelersDepot

    “I think it’s more accurate to look at the way the 20 yards was obtained.”

    And that’s why I posted the video and said watch for how many yards after contact he gets during these plays so people can see HOW he got them.

  • Michael Conrad

    I like the way he runs not the safety’s but some CB’s will have to make a business decision weather to tackle him like Deon Sanders always says.

    He could make it a long day for CB’s who have to cover AB and Bryant and then get run over.

  • Jonas

    I agree. I like that + his stiff arm behind this OL. However, he has to lower his pad level a tad to break tackles in the NFL.

    He’s also just getting back some of his sophomore explosiveness – so i’m optimistic.

  • Consistent

    He is so Beast Mode at times! I hope he doesn’t want to try EVERY LB in the NFL but if he’s prudent he could really take the air out of defenders,like when I remember guys not wanting to tackle HOF’r Jerome Bettis late in games…they would make weak attempts at his feet after a few quarters of being ran over

  • renoir

    Ultimately, times mean little except to physicists and race car drivers…

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    I would think so. The more he can avoid contact,the longer career he can have. Earl Campbell is the poster child for that.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    Hmmm, I think it would have been more useful to see a video of him in his pre cancerous form. I read that the Pitt line was one of the best run blocking lines and I could see some gaping holes that Bell rarely gets to see. Also the level of competition is obviously lower. I’m seeing a guy who’ll get some yards but is,at least in this video, marginal in speed. A well to do man’s Redman?.

  • The Truth

    It seems to me that in the video being a big back didn’t help at all. If he was a fast RB he would have turned many of those plays into much longer gains and possibly TD runs too. He wasn’t touched until 5+ yards past the scrimmage on many, if not all, of the plays in the video. I think these runs are due to the O-line opening huge holes.

    I would like to see his runs when contact is met at the scrimmage.

  • The Truth

    In that video it didn’t look to be very good. He pretty much dropped at first contact.

  • ND_Steel

    Devils Advocate…1) taking out his explosive runs, he averaged somewhere around 2.5 yds/carry on the other 174 carries. 2) hightlights show him bouncing quite a few of these to the outside but not having the speed to fully take advantage…good vision or missed opportunity by a faster back? 3) most of contact was downfield…Bettis made a living of overcoming contact at the line of scrimmage, does Conner have that kind of power and subsequent acceleration to get it going again?

  • mem359

    Any runner looks a lot worse if you selectively take out 40 of their best runs.

  • mem359

    I like the Georgia Tech clip, around 2:00.
    Number 40 decides to dive into Conner on the ground, but completely misses because Conner has already bounced up and heading back to his huddle.

  • The Truth

    Those were my thoughts too. I was trying to find video footage of him getting met with contact at the scrimmage. I am thinking the reason it’s not in his highlights is because he is probably dropped at the scrimmage.

  • SteelersDepot

    So you are not seeing the full Pitt games on Youtube? Me thinks you are doing some trolling here.

  • ND_Steel

    Valid…but those are some monster holes though and not one run had contact at or near LoS….I didn’t watch his games, but I would think you can’t score 16 times without some vision and power. I’m certainly rooting for him.

  • The Truth

    I have watched Pitt games. Do you recall him breaking many tackles at the line of scrimmage? The video above shows him running through huge holes. If anything being a slower RB hurt him on those runs. Am I wrong?

    Me thinks you are a liberal. You can’t handle anyone that has a differing opinion?

    Since when do mods release private info of users in a public forum?

  • SteelersDepot

    Seems your IP, a very similar one, has already banned once. Makes sense now.

  • Sim

    He may not be a burner but he seems to have a great burst when hitting his hole. A lot of guys seem to have him lined up and end up turning their heads. He’s getting run down — not great top end or shiftiness — but he’s making people miss in his own way. Of course the unknown is — will that burst be enough in the NFL?

  • H.K. northern cali

    Feel good if bell go’s down or suspended. Should be in good hands for yrs to come.

  • dany

    And with this oline, CBs WILL have to be the ones tackling him often

  • Greg S

    I agree with your article and he does get yards after contact. Thanks for the video. I like what he shows. However, It did seem on some runs he broke through holes and had a straight shot at taking it to the end zone and seemed to get run down from behind. But I will take 10 and 15 yard bursts here and there. I also noted very little demostrative acts after these runs, run it 20 yards, tough running and yards after contact… often pops up and heads back to huddle. Love that type of player. Acts like he expects those runs.

  • GoSteelerz

    He may not be the quickest guy, but one thing that stands out to me, besides being a powerful runner is that there is no wasted movement with him. He makes the right cut at the right time. I like him, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with us.

  • Frank

    In a similar way that i noticed juju getting both feet in on sideline catches, conner seems to always have the ball in his sideline arm making any potential fumble less dangerous, just another savvy type little detail i noticed. Plus that stiff arm on the clemson guy was pretty killer to watch.

  • Jim Foles

    Bell has average top end..