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Fantasy football: Expect Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner to return to RB1 status in 2020

Consistent production and volume continue to be valued at the highest level for fantasy football. Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner fits the mold of a consistent player who produced at an elite level in 2018, but his production — and health — nosedived in 2019. Looking ahead to the 2020 season, it’s fair to wonder whether Conner can return to the dominance he once displayed.

According to BestBall10s drafts dating back to the beginning of June, Conner’s average draft position (ADP) currently sits at 35.69, ranking him as the RB19.

Fantasy Points per Game

Conner’s 2018 and 2019 seasons were on opposite ends of the spectrum. His 2018 campaign resulted in an average of 21.5 points per game and a total of 280 fantasy points — both figures that ranked sixth among running backs in full-point PPR leagues. Conner’s effectiveness as a runner helped accumulate the majority of his points, but he was also productive as a receiver — ranking 13th in yards per target (7.42), 14th in yards per reception (9.04) and sixth in yards after the catch per reception (10.09) among running backs who played 25% or more of their team’s snaps.

In addition, Conner received plenty of work in the most important part of the field: the red zone. His 34 red-zone rushing attempts ranked 11th in the league and his 17 rushing attempts inside the five-yard line ranked third in the league.

In 2019, Conner averaged only 14.6 points per game (18th among running backs) and totaled 145.5 points, ranking him as the RB35. Conner ultimately played in only 10 games due to injury. While healthy in 2019 (Weeks 1-8), Conner averaged close to 18 touches per game and ranked sixth in fantasy points per snap among running backs. In addition to his work on the ground, Conner once again proved useful as a receiver, registering 19 missed tackles forced (fourth) and 1.64 yards per route run (11th) in the weeks he played.

The Steelers struggled to produce the same caliber of offense in 2019 as in 2018, registering 31 fewer red-zone plays and 25 fewer goal-line plays. The lack of offensive firepower limited Conner’s touchdown upside compared to his 2018 campaign.

Usage Rates

Conner’s usage rates differed drastically over the past two seasons. Here are his usage rates for rushing attempts and receptions in the games he played:

James Conner Rushing and Receiving Usage Rates | 2018-2019
Year Rushing attempts market share Receptions market share
2018 76% 14.6%
2019 53.7% 15.8%

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