Steelers running back James Conner, who is currently listed as questionable with a quad injury, could be the difference in advancing to the fantasy football championships or falling short. Conner has become someone that managers are nervous about through either inefficiency or injury. Will James Conner play on Monday Night Football, and can he help you advance in your fantasy playoffs?
James Conner is questionable heading into Monday Night
After his awful performance against the Bills in Week 14, the Steelers came out and said Conner is dealing with a quad injury. He finished with just 18 yards on 10 carries in that game.
Along with Conner, Benny Snell also struggled to do anything on the ground. The second-year running back had a pedestrian 14 yards on three carries. Snell has had 10 games this season where he’s rushed for 20 yards or less.
According to the team’s injury report, Conner did not participate in practice on Thursday and was a limited participant on both Friday and Saturday. Everything coming from the teams says that James Conner will play tonight. Whether or not we should trust him for fantasy is another issue altogether.
Conner had missed the two previous games after being placed on the NFL’s reserved list
It is worth noting that Week 14 was Conner’s first game back after missing the previous two after testing positive. We all know the backstory of James Conner and the fight he had with cancer, which made his positive test all that much more concerning.
I bring this up because we have witnessed several players who have tested positive talk about how they don’t feel the same for a while. Cleveland Browns’ Myles Garrett says it still is impacting him. Throw in lackluster performances from other positive cases with Cam Newton and Ezekiel Elliott, to name a few, and you have to wonder if that is playing a factor.
I am sure this will be a case study for years to come. However, James Conner’s fantasy issues are much deeper than that or his quad injury.
The Steelers have abandoned the rushing attack since mid-season
Chuck Noll, Myron Cope, and Art Rooney are rolling over in their graves at what the Steelers’ offense looks like currently.
Since Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans, Ben Roethlisberger has attempted 356 passes in eight games. That’s an average of 44.5 per game and a pace of 712 for 16 games.
James Conner, Snell, and the rest of the RBs have rushed 142 times combined during this stretch. That’s an average of 17.5 rushes per game and a 72/28 split. There is not another team that is close to the Steelers during this time.
Sure, when you have players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool, you want to get them involved. But not when it comes to losing the identity of the team. It also doesn’t help that the Steelers’ WRs have the most drops in the NFL at 35.
Even with all of this going on, there’s hope for James Conner’s fantasy managers so long as he will play through his quad injury.
James Conner and the Steelers should get back on track against the Bengals
The Steelers are facing one of the league’s worst run defenses in the Bengals. Cincinnati is giving up 116.3 rushing yards per game and 23.11 fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. They also give up the fourth-most RB yards per carry (4.89). While seeing an average of 23.7 carries per game, they have given ball-carriers 2.07 yards before contact, which is the sixth-most in the league.
That’s a big stat as the Steelers’ offensive line gives their running backs a league-low 1.07 yards before contact each play. The Bengals have been a bend but don’t break defense when it comes to running backs. Teams have chosen to run the ball 44.2 percent of the time against them, but they have only allowed seven rushing touchdowns.
When the Steelers run, they should find success. It’s just a matter of how often that will happen. Even when they have a lead, they don’t slow up. When up by three or more points, they are running just 44.2% of the time.
Even before his injury, James Conner hasn’t scored since back in Week 8, so it’s tough to call him anything more than a high-end RB3 for this game. It’s the last game of the week, and there aren’t many other options. Conner is the best one remaining, so you have to take the shot. But know that the team is not doing him any favors currently. These very well might be the last two regular-season games James Conner plays in the Black and Gold. I believe he will play, and I hope he ends that time on a high note. He deserves it.
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