6-2, 250 pounds. James Conner is a big boy, slightly taller than Jerome Bettis (Bettis was 5'11), and slightly lighter (the Bus weighed in at 255 pounds). In a league where small, fast players are becoming more and more predominant, Pitt running back James Conner is a bit of a throwback. Conner is also a player with immense upside, who could work his way into the first round in 2016.
Conner is quick on his feet for a big guy. The film shows good footwork and nice bursts of speed. However, speed is not what defines Conner. Conner is a strong, scrappy runner who breaks tackles and fights hard for extra yardage. Here are some highlights. Keep in mind that Conner is a sophomore in that film. How good was Conner as a sophomore? James Conner won ACC Player of the Year and ACC Offensive Player of the Year en route to a 1765 yard, 26 TD (26 tds is a school record), 5.9 Yards-per-carry campaign, a campaign that followed his 799 yard-8 touchdown freshman campaign. Going into his junior year, Conner should become a household name among NFL fans waiting for the NFL draft.
One thing that Conner does not do, at least in college, is catch passes. He has a career total of 8 receptions for 103 yards, so he likely won't play much of a role in the passing game. That being said, especially in short yardage and goal line situations, Conner's physical gifts make him a threat every time he touches the ball.
Where does Conner project as an NFL player? I view him as a bellcow type running back who can carry the load in an NFL offense, especially a run first offense. Conner is tough enough to handle a heavy workload in the NFL, even though he's not a pass-catcher. I think he's easily a first or second round pick. His down-side is a goal line and short yardage back in a committee who could make a huge contribution to an offense early in his career.
Conner is poised for a monster 2015 season, and I expect him to generate a huge amount of buzz heading into the 2016 draft. He might not be the star that Gurley was, but James Conner has the talent and the physical traits to be an every-down starter in the NFL for years to come. Some teams might cycle him out of the lineup in passing situations, but Conner has outstanding vision and strength as a runner, and those traits will secure him a major role in an NFL offense. I project him as a likely 2016 first round pick, barring injury. On thing's for sure. He'll be fun to watch this year.
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