James Conner gave an interview recently where he said he expected the Steelers to spread out backfield touches. Jaylen Samuels proved to be a viable backup a year ago, and the Steelers drafted Benny Snell in the fourth round. Cause for concern when drafting Conner? Well...we'll see.
“I’ve seen [Snell's] college tape," says Conner. "He’s also learned the offense really quick. I know he’ll be ready to play this year. Jaylen, obviously, is going to make a lot of plays, too.”
Sounds convincing, except it flies in the face of how the Steelers have operated in recent years. Whether LeVeon Bell, DeAngelo Williams or James Conner, the Steelers have tended to ride one back. No reason to think it will suddenly change this year with Conner.
2018: Samuels carries with Conner out of lineup: 42 (three games). Carries with Conner active: 14 (six games).
2017: Conner/Stevan Ridley carries with Bell out of lineup: 20 (one game). Carries with Bell active: 38 (15 games).
2016: DeAngelo Williams carries with Bell out of lineup: 89 (four games). Carries with Bell active: 9 (five games).
2015: Williams carries with Bell out of lineup: 178 (10 games). Carries with Bell active: 22 (six games).
In 2014, Bell played all 16 games.
Samuels proved last year he could play when Conner was sidelined. But so did DeAngelo Williams two years earlier, and the Steelers mothballed him as soon as Bell was available.
If Conner's speculation of carries being spread out causes other teams to shy away from selecting him early in drafts, that looks like a situation to embrace, getting Conner a little later than he should be taken. Maybe you need to draft Samuels earlier than you'd like to take a No. 2, but it should be with the idea that he too will play full-time if Conner gets hurt; not that he'll likely have any standalone value of his own.