Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Mack: Still Worried About Le'Veon? You're Doing It Wrong

Time to compare Conner to the best backs in the league, not Bell

Chris Mack
November 07, 2018 - 9:49 am

Can we stop, please?

Can we stop focusing on Le'Veon Bell, his misspelled tweets, where he's playing pick-up hoops, and how he may or may not be used when and if he returns to the Steelers?

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As Steelers' Guard David DeCastro so succinctly put it Sunday afternoon, "No one cares anymore."

Count me as part of the no ones that have no cares remaining for any discussion that strips time away from talking about what should be one of the headline stories not just in Pittsburgh, but across the National Football League: James Conner.

Not a single person expected to get the kind of All Pro-level production from Conner that we've seen, yet rather than placing him up on the pedestal he deserves, we're still busy wondering aloud what may happen to his workload when - and if - Bell returns.

Seriously?

A second year player is performing at the top of his game, far exceeding any and all expectations, and we're focused on the guy who isn't even on the team yet?

Here's an idea: Conner is wildly underappreciated, not necessarily by his teammates or fans, but certainly by a media narrative that continues to focus on a comparison of Conner to Bell rather than what should be the real story, a comparison of Conner to Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Adrian Peterson, and Ezekiel Elliott as one of a handful of the best backs in the league.

Conner leads the NFL in runs of 20 or more yards (8), is tied for second in rushing touchdowns (9), third in first downs on the ground (37), and most importantly is eclipsed by just Gurley in rushing yards (706) and total yards (1,085). There are another half dozen or so rushing categories where Conner is Top 3 in the game.

Did I mention he's having a better statistical season than Bell had in his best year?

Regardless of whether Bell signs his franchise tender and returns to work or not, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin would be certifiably insane if he decided to insert him ahead of Conner in the Steelers' offense for even a few plays, let alone completely push aside the second year back who is looking for his 5th consecutive 100-yard game on the ground.

Perhaps most telling is that a team that struggled to score just 53% of the time in the red zone last season is now 2nd best in the NFL with a 75% conversion rate inside their opponents' 20-yard line.

It's fairly simple and straightforward, if you ask me. The Steelers are better with Conner than they are with Bell.

What's confusing to me is why we can't push past that discussion and get to the one that really matters: Have the Steelers gone from having one of the best all-around running backs in football to... well, having one of the best all-around running backs in football?

The numbers fairly scream that yes, they have. The numbers tell you that it's about time to stop worrying about how good James Conner is compared to Le'Veon Bell and start talking about how good James Conner is compared to everyone else.