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Steelers Rumors: James Conner Leaving Part of the Plan; Eye 'More Dynamic' RB

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2021

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) carries the ball during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers were prepared to let running back James Conner leave in free agency in order to upgrade the position early in the 2021 NFL draft, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"They want a more dynamic feature back, a player who can put back in the offense a dimension that has been missing since the departure of Le'Veon Bell," Dulac reported. "They will do that in the draft, most likely in the first round, no later than the second."

Conner led the Steelers with 721 rushing yards last season while adding 215 receiving yards and six total touchdowns. He signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency last week.

The Steelers return backups Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland, but it's clear the squad is looking for an upgrade after finishing last in the NFL in both total rushing yards and yards per carry.

Conner earned a Pro Bowl selection in his first season as a starter in 2018 but averaged just 86.7 yards from scrimmage per game during the past three years. His predecessor, Le'Veon Bell, averaged 129 yards from scrimmage during his five years with the Steelers and was one of the league's most dangerous weapons both on the ground and through the air.

Pittsburgh already has an exciting receiving corps with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, but a top running back could make this offense especially dangerous in 2021.

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This year's class features several potential game-changing players at the position, led by Alabama's Najee Harris, who had 30 total touchdowns in 2020 for the eventual national champions.

Bleacher Report's Scouting Department lists four running backs among the top 65 players in the class, including Harris, Javonte Williams, Michael Carter and Travis Etienne. It provides plenty of chances for Pittsburgh to find a featured back in one of the first two rounds.