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Without James Conner, Steelers RB Room Lacks Proven Productivity

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With starting running back James Conner signing with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be entering the 2021 NFL Draft without a ton of productivity at the running back position.

Conner has been the team’s primary starter since 2018, and though four backups remain from 2020, with one free agent addition, but that isn’t a group that has a ton of NFL success on its resumes.

With two weeks to go before the draft, here are the running backs on the Steelers roster, with their 2020 and career rushing stats:

Benny Snell Jr.

2020: 111 carries, 368 yards, four touchdowns, 3.3 yards per carry
Career: 219 carries, 794 yards, six touchdowns, 3.6 yards per carry

Kalen Ballage

2020: 91 carries, 303 yards, three touchdowns, 3.3 yards per carry
Career: 201 carries, 629 yards, seven touchdowns, 3.1 yards per carry

Anthony McFarland Jr.

2020/Career: 33 carries, 113 yards, no touchdowns, 3.4 yards per carry

Jaylen Samuels

2020: nine carries, 28 yards, no touchdowns, 3.1 yards per carry
Career: 131 carries, 459 yards, one touchdown, 3.5 yards per carry

Trey Edmunds

2020: No stats
Career: 31 carries, 140 yards, one touchdown, 4.5 yards per carry


That’s combined 732 rushing yards and seven touchdowns from a year ago, which is essentially what the Steelers also lost in Conner, who had 721 yards and six scores.

For this group to even replicate what the Steelers had in 2020, they’d need to double their year-over-year output. Furthermore, Steelers president Art Rooney II and Kevin Colbert have pledged to prioritize improving the team’s running game that finished dead last in the NFL in 2020.

Part of that will come from a re-formed offensive line, but that group has lost three starters, while only getting Zach Banner, B.J. Finney and a handful of depth options in return in free agency.

If the Steelers are going to make that pledge stick, they will have to address those issues the draft. With significant present needs at center and running back and future needs at tackle and guard, it seems likely that many if not all of the team’s first- and second-day picks could be used in the area.

With the lack of depth in the 2021 draft class at center and running back, it seems all but certain that the Steelers will need to use first- or second-day picks on those positions in order to maximize their potential returns.

While trading down could be an option, there seem to be limited options at those positions at No. 24 overall, with Alabama running back Najee Harris and Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey the most likely targets.

With Conner headed to Arizona and an under-whelming group of returning backs and additions, it seems more likely than ever that the Steelers will look to a running back two weeks from Thursday night.

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