The Pittsburgh Steelers made eight selections in the 2017 NFL Draft. Can the team’s second third-round pick make an immediate impact?
Every year, the three-day process known as the NFL Draft is a combination of choosing some amazing college talent and listening to some bigger stories of perseverance. For one-time Pittsburgh Panthers’ running back James Conner, the fact that he’s playing football and will now do it for the Pittsburgh Steelers is probably somewhat unimaginable. But the team did make him the second of their two third-round picks in April.
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the story of a young man who was the 2014 ACC Offensive Player of the Year. A year later, a knee injury limited him to one game. In December 2015, Conner announced that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But this past season, Conner returned to the field. Not only did he get back on the gridiron, though, the 6-2, 235-pound force totaled 1,394 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns. Now the Erie, PA native is a member of the Black and Gold.
“His dream was to play for the Steelers,” said veteran Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Bouchette. “He really didn’t want to go anywhere else. This kid will come in and give us everything he has.”
When you’re on a team that includes standout runner Le’Veon Bell, versatility is very important. And Conner proved that in his final season with the Panthers. The 22-year-old running back racked up 216 carries for 1,092 yards and 16 scores. And after totaling only nine receptions in his first three collegiate seasons, Conner came up with 21 catches for an impressive 302 yards (14.4 average) and four touchdowns in 2016.
While Bell (who remains unsigned after being given the exclusive franchise tag in March) is the clear starter, Conner figures to be the main backup. Meanwhile, the Steelers did not re-sign veteran DeAngelo Williams. The club did bring in Knile Davis from the Kansas City Chiefs, but he may be more of a factor on kickoff returns than the backfield.
From Pitt Panther to Pittsburgh Steeler, James Conner is an ideal addition to Todd Haley’s offense. Perhaps just as important is the fact that the young performer figures to be an inspiration for those facing adversity of any kind. All told, it adds up to nothing but positives for all involved.