In the 2019 season, only five running backs averaged at least 22.0 opportunities (rush attempts plus targets) per game. In 2018, that number was just four. Two players did it in both seasons (Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley), meaning only seven players have achieved that feat even once in the last two seasons.
One of those seven is James Conner, who averaged 16.5 carries and 5.5 targets per game for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018. He may be a year removed from that workload, which elevated him to a seventh-ranked average of 21.5 PPR fantasy football points per game, but he absolutely still has that kind of top-10 potential in 2020.
One big reason that it's easy to forgive Conner's down year in 2019 is that the entire Pittsburgh Steelers offense took a hit when Ben Roethlisberger went down and was replaced by Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.
The offense went from averaging 5.8 yards per play in 2017 (T-No. 6 in the NFL) and 6.1 in 2018 (No. 6 in the NFL) to just 4.7 per play in 2019 (T-No. 30 in the NFL). With Ben Roethlisberger back and reportedly healthy in 2020, the rising tide should lift all ships in Pittsburgh.
Conner's per-game volume also didn't fall off nearly as much in 2019 as it might appear on first glance. Two of the 10 games he played saw him play fewer than 15 snaps, and he was clearly never right after Week 8. If we just look at his first seven games, however, we see an average of 18.3 opportunities (13.9 carries plus 4.4 targets) per game. Still not 2018 level numbers, but still a mark that would have ranked No. 15 on the season.
Conner is being drafted as just the RB21 this year, however, according to average draft position (ADP) data from FantasyPros. Volume is king for running backs' fantasy value, and that means Conner is basically being drafted right as his floor.
If Big Ben's return leads to a bounce-back for the Steelers offense, Conner should once again see improved efficiency to go with heavy volume, and that would absolutely put him in contention to finish as a top-12 RB — which wouldn't be too bad a return for a guy you can often draft in the fourth round.
Jason Schandl is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Jason Schandl also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username Jaymun. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in his articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.