Rapoport: Injured RBs Melvin Gordon, James Conner to Return Week 16

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2018

CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 25: Running back Melvin Gordon #28 of the Los Angeles Chargers makes a run play in the second quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at StubHub Center on November 25, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon and Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner are expected to be cleared to play in Week 16 after being rule out in Week 15, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. 

Gordon has missed L.A.'s past three games with a knee injury, including Thursday's 29-28 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in a crucial AFC West showdown, while Conner is in line to miss his second straight game on Sunday with a sprained ankle. 

Injuries have hit the Chargers hard at running back, as Gordon's primary backup, Austin Ekeler, was also out of action against the Chiefs with a neck injury. That forced third-stringer Justin Jackson into the starting lineup Thursday, and he responded by rushing 16 times for 58 yards and a score while adding three receptions for 27 yards. 

Despite Gordon's importance for L.A.'s offense—he's rushed 802 yards and nine touchdowns this season, caught 44 passes for 453 yards and another four scores and earned an 87.6 grade from Pro Football Focus (third amongst halfbacks)—the team has managed to go 3-0 in his absence, emerging as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

While the 11-3 Chargers are a team on the rise, the 7-5-1 Steelers are struggling, having lost three straight. The latest injury to Conner won't help, as he's been magnificent for Pittsburgh this season, rushing for 909 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 52 receptions for 467 yards and another score. He almost completely alleviated the loss of superstar running back Le'Veon Bell, who has held out for the entire season.

Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley will replace Conner in Pittsburgh, though the duo is unlikely to replicate his value. In a 24-21 loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders last week, the pair combined to rush 16 times for just 32 yards, though Samuels did add seven receptions for 64 yards. 

With a difficult matchup against the New England Patriots on Sunday, however, the absence of Conner will be felt for a Pittsburgh offense trying to get back on track. 

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