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Can James Conner Carry the Load in the Desert

James Conner may be the best fantasy RB value play of 2023. @ReflipeWThenuz breaks down the vet and his 2023 outlook.

Of all the running backs in the NFL, James Conner may represent the best overall value for contenders. You would be hard-pressed to find any backs with a three-down role that come so cheaply. Let’s break down why he is valuable to your squads. Without further ado, let us dive into the Cardinals’ lead back.

The Player

James Conner came into the NFL as one of the best feel-good stories in recent memory. At the University of Pittsburgh, he was diagnosed with cancer. The disease robbed him of his junior season. He was nonetheless able to return to Pitt for his final season. While he wasn’t quite the same player as in his sophomore season, he managed to play well enough to be drafted by his hometown Steelers. You can see his college numbers below.

Rushing & Receiving Table
Games Rushing Receiving Total Yds
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Rush Yds TD 1D Lng Y/A Y/G A/G Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD 1D Lng R/G Y/G Ctch% Y/Tgt Touch Y/Tch YScm RRTD Fmb AV Awards
201722PITRB301403214404234.510.32.31000000.00.00.0%0.0324.5144001
2018*23PITRB3013122159731256304.574.816.571554979.0120294.238.277.5%7.02705.4147013410PB
201924PITRB301010116464426254.046.411.638342517.4314263.425.189.5%6.61504.8715714
202025PITRB301311169721642594.355.513.043352156.1010182.716.581.4%5.02044.6936626
2021*26ARIRB61562027521553353.750.113.5393737510.1318452.525.094.9%9.62394.711271827PB
202227ARIRB61313183782748234.360.214.158463006.5113223.523.179.3%5.22294.71082837
Career7852917383644229594.249.211.825020716387.9875452.721.082.8%6.611244.95474521235
4 yrsPIT5033532230222128594.346.010.61531249637.8444292.519.381.0%6.36565.0326526721
2 yrsARI2819385153422101354.054.813.897836758.1431453.024.185.6%7.04684.7220926514
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/10/2023.

After a quiet rookie campaign sitting behind Le’Veon Bell, Conner was given the chance of a lifetime. The third-round pick was thrust into the starting role as Bell held out for a new contract he never received. Conner enjoyed the best season of his career, proving to be a weapon both in the running and passing game. Despite his breakout, he did miss multiple games, an unfortunate occurrence that has plagued him every season. You can see some of his breakout highlights below.

Conner parlayed his breakout into two more seasons as the starter in Pittsburgh. That time was full of ups and downs as he succeeded on the field yet missed multiple games every year. At the end of his run, he was unable to get an extension with his hometown squad. He eventually signed a one-year deal in Arizona. During that season, he was somewhat inefficient but enjoyed a career resurgence scoring 18 touchdowns. As a result of that year, the Cardinals rewarded him with a three-year deal. The first two years were essentially guaranteed. 2023 is the last fully guaranteed season for Conner in Arizona.

The Situation 

As mentioned above, James Conner’s 2023 contract is almost fully guaranteed. There is no chance he is not the Cardinals’ starting running back this year. You can see his contract details below, according to Spotrac.

Heading into the 2023 campaign, the Arizona Cardinals have one of the thinnest running back rooms in the league. Behind Conner, you will find only 2022 sixth-round pick Keaontay Ingram and journeymen Corey Clement and Ty’Son Williams. Ingram was given some run last year and turned that time into a 27/60/1 stat line, good for 2.2 ypc. So, needless to say, Conner is once again looking at a three-down workload.

2023 Outlook

Heading into the new season, the Cardinals will be looking to take the pressure off their backup quarterback since franchise signal caller Kyler Murray is working his way back from a torn ACL. They also have little incentive to keep Conner’s touches low. There is no draft pick of note to get experience. James Conner will be the cheapest three-down running back in all of fantasy.

I think it is safe to expect Conner to have numbers similar to last year. His touches should be in the range of 200 or more carries and 40-50 catches. I expect he will fall between 1,200-1,500 total yards. The real question will be how many touchdowns he will score. Over the last two seasons in Arizona, he has averaged 13 touchdowns per season. I could see those numbers coming down as a result of coaching changes and injuries at the quarterback position. The stat line will look similar to 220/900/6 rushing along with 48/325/3 receiving. Those numbers would make him a playable RB2.

The best part about Conner for contending teams is his price. Looking through the Dynasty Nerds Trade Browser, which you can find in our revolutionary DynastyGM tool, James Conner has recently gone for as little as a second-round pick or Conner and a third for a second. Those are dirt cheap prices for a player with high-end RB2 upside in the short term.

Final Thoughts

Conner provides excellent short-term value for teams in win-now mode heading into the 2023 campaign. He is a dual-threat runner with a nose for the end zone and a pair of soft hands. At over 230 pounds, he has the power to drive the pile, as you can see below.

He is the perfect trade chip. If you are competing, this is the perfect type of player to add as an RB3/4. His touchdown upside could even allow him to sneak back into the low-end RB1 type of rank. If you are rebuilding, he is a guaranteed second-round pick to any contender. Do yourself a favor and stock up on James Conner shares while the price is still down. He will undoubtedly miss some games, but past that, it’s hard to find a more consistent scorer.

Thank you for reading this article! Please be sure to join the #Nerdherd so you don’t miss out on any of the amazing things we have to offer Dynastynerds.com. Use my promo code DynastyHolliday for a 15% off discount. You will get rankings, extra podcasts, and access to our rookie film room. For just a couple of bucks more, you can get access to our revolutionary DynastyGM tool. So much for so little; why miss out on all the fun? Also, you absolutely must check out our new mock draft tool. Find it in your Apple & Android app stores. Follow me @ReflipeWThenuz for more dynasty content and other musings.

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