Advanced stats show Steelers would be crazy to bench James Conner for Le’Veon Bell

By Jesse Reed

It’s been quite apparent this year that the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t missing Le’Veon Bell, thanks to the outstanding dual-threat capabilities of James Conner.

Through eight games, Conner has racked up 1,085 yards and 12 touchdowns from scrimmage. Extrapolate that and the second-year star is on pace for 2,170 yards and 24 touchdowns.

In his best season as a pro, Bell racked up 2,215 yards. But his career high for touchdowns in a single season is 11 — Conner has already exceeded him there in half a season.

Now comes a deeper look at the impact Conner has had on Pittsburgh’s offense, and a direct comparison to what Bell did in exactly the same situations during the 2017 season. NFL Research shared Next Gen Stats, courtesy of Pro Football Focus, that show Conner has been much more effective going against a stacked box (eight or more defenders) and has been more elusive this year than Bell was last year.

The talented dual-threat holdout hasn’t discussed his return with the Steelers. But a report pins down his schedule, which is to attend the Michigan State game this weekend before finally showing up for work in Pittsburgh before the Tuesday deadline next week.

The big question at this point, however, is whether the Steelers are willing to rock the boat. For what it’s worth, it seems absurd to bench Conner in favor of Bell, who isn’t in football shape and has not been working with his teammates since last season.