Conner led Steelers rushers with 42 yards on 10 carries and also led all receivers with 83 yards and a touchdown on eight catches, which gave new perspective to his viability in fantasy.
Fellow Pittsburgh running back Jaylen Samuels threw his hat in the fantasy ring, too, with 26 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries paired with 57 receiving yards on eight catches.
A reminder: The Steelers will be without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the remainder of the season after the 37-year-old six-time Pro Bowler suffered an elbow injury in Week 2. While second-year backup Mason Rudolph has moved the offense well, Big Ben's absence figures to affect on-field and fantasy output.
The Steelers mustered just 326 yards against a hapless Bengals defense that ranked 27th in the league entering Week 4, but Conner and Samuel accounted for 208 of those yards.
Pittsburgh found success when it took pressure off Rudolph. Samuels lined up under center multiple times, going 3-of-3 for 31 yards as a passer and running himself or handing it off to Conner other times. It begs the question: Was that a game plan specific for Cincy or the first glimpse of a new scheme to help Rudolph?
If the Steelers roll with it, it is not a given they will find the same production against stiffer competition.
Conner was a hot fantasy commodity entering the season after posting 973 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground plus 497 yards as a receiver in 2018. Through the first three weeks of this season, he disappointed. However, his breakout against the Bengals was predicted:
Mike Tannenbaum @RealTannenbaum
Last week, Steelers RB James Conner only had 2 carries go for more than 5 yards. According to @NextGenStats, Conner ranks 38th out of 43 rushers in their efficiency metric. Tonight could be his breakout game, as the @Bengals rank 31st in rushing defense https://t.co/KxFJXiNiW3
On Monday night, he delivered with 26.5 PPR fantasy points after accumulating 31.7 through Week 3.
Samuels accounted for 256 rushing yards but zero touchdowns and was most viable as a receiver with 199 yards and three touchdowns in 2018. His 23.5 PPR points Monday night feel closer to an anomaly against one of the worst teams in the NFL.
The Steelers' upcoming schedule is a mixed bag with the stouter Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers and a bye in Week 7 followed by the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts. That stretch will tell a lot about whether Conner's slow start or most recent outing will continue.
For now, he holds RB2 value with the potential to reclaim RB1 form. Samuels is a player to keep an eye on.