Cardinals QB Kyler Murray Is 2021’s breakout QB

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray is this season’s breakout QB

By: Jason Willis

For the last several years we have seen a young quarterback come into the season with questions and go on to take a massive leap. In 2018 we of course got to witness the emergence of Patrick Mahomes and his MVP season. In 2019 it was Lamar Jackson who proved critics wrong by leading an unstoppable Ravens offense and winning an MVP award of his own. Atlas, 2020 belonged to the Bills Josh Allen who finally put it all together to become an elite passer. In 2021, that player will be Kyler Murray.

In 2020, Kyler Murray had a stellar season. With 3,971 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions through the air and 819 yards rushing, and eleven more scores, he was a darling of the fantasy football community. However, from an on-field standpoint, it was imperative that he limited the mistakes, and take advantage of more opportunities. In 2021 not only has he done these things, but he also has improved on areas that were already a strength.

Much like the other players mentioned who took drastic leaps forward, Kyler is an incredible athlete. Early on, this athleticism dominated his playstyle whereas now, it accentuates it.

This play exhibits it well. As the pass rush closes in Murray is athletic enough to escape the rush but stays poised and keeps his eyes downfield. In doing so, he is able to find Rondale Moore of a long touchdown. In years past, a play like this likely turns into a sack as Murray tries to run. Instead, it’s a huge play.

Perhaps the only thing that could truly stop Kyler from achieving his potential is his head coach. Simply, Kliff Kingsbury is not an NFL-level play-caller. As such, much of the Cardinals offense comes from the former number one overall pick just improvising. If the Cardinals and Kyler are truly going to take the next step, they need more from their head coach.

As the season moves forward, time will tell if Murray can maintain this level of play. Currently, he has 1,005 yards passing with seven scores and three more on the ground. If this pace continues, he would finish 2021 with over 5,000 yards passing and over 35 touchdowns. While these numbers might not stay true, the talks of MVP are already ringing across the NFL. With the Cardinals sitting at 3-0 on the back of the Heisman winners’ play, who can blame them for talking?

Kyler Murray certainly still has more room to develop his game. However, just a few years ago we were all pretty convinced he would be the “shortstop for the Oakland A’s”. One of the most fun and exciting young players in the game today, 2022 is looking to be the year Murray takes over.

Arizona Cardinals are the biggest dark horse Super Bowl contender

Who is the biggest darkhorse Super Bowl contender?

By: Jake Rajala

The 2021 Arizona Cardinals team is a noticeably different animal than the 2020 Cardinals squad. Despite the vast number of upgrades to the roster and key young players garnering an offseason of growth, the new-look Cardinals team has been vastly underrated appreciated in the wide view of football media. 

Prior to Week 1 kicking off, writer Dan Hanzus placed the Cardinals at a mediocre 18th spot. The Cardinals came in just one spot ahead of the Dallas Cowboys, who were third in the NFC East last season, and two spots behind the Indianapolis Colts, a team whose QB was sidelined for disastrous play last season. This ranking is mind-boggling, especially since an article projecting the Cardinals to be astounding came out just one day prior.  

Cynthia Frelund, who has mastered NFL Network’s projections as an analytics expert, predicts the Cardinals to make the playoffs and she hands them the third-highest win ceiling in the NFC (behind TB and GB). It isn’t exactly a contradicting output, but yet it is a hysterical notion that some experts feel the Cardinals are a step from a step away from being a dangerous, NFC contending team — while in-depth analytics from a simulation of 81,600,000 projects the Cardinals to be elite.

I believed the Cardinals were a Top 10 team heading into the season and surely and can be an 11-12 win football team. After the Cardinals monster victory over the hyped-up Tennessee Titans, surprisingly moved AZ up a mere four spots. Their current predicament is three spots behind the Chargers, two spots behind the Packers, and just one spot ahead of the New England Patriots. I believe it’s still a bizarre spot for the already very impressive AND talented NFC West team.

Frelund projected the Seahawks as the odd team out in the west prior to Week 1. I would feel comfortable with having the popular 49ers squad as the team out in the West. The 49ers seemed to try really hard to hand the Lions, who arguably have the NFL’s least talented roster, a victory last Sunday. To say I’m bullish on Jimmy G’s arm strength and charisma to bring a somewhat depleted defense to the playoffs in the brutal NFC West would be an understatement. The defense hardly showed the ability to complement their subpar QB against a below mediocre Lions offense in Week 1. The Lions had a whopping 438 total yards against SF’s defense, while Goff had 318 passing yards in his offense’s total effort. An unsettling cherry on top for the 49ers defensive concerns has to lie with the fact that they didn’t only allow Goff to shred their secondary, but the Lions had their will at running the football against the 49ers front seven. The Lions ground game was also were very efficient with a 4.83 YPC and 116 rushing yards. I believe the 49ers, whose defense and run game are a far cry from what the team that competed in the 2020 Super Bowl, have to be seen as the odd man out in the wild west.

The Cardinals are truly a juggernaut team. They have Chandler Jones, who was the NFC defensive player of the year in 2019, back and hunting down QBs. He showed up with a legendary performance in Week 1 with an astounding five sacks. I believe the Cardinals made a brilliant move in improving the short Super Bowl window by acquiring J.J. Watt and letting Haason Reddick leave in free agency. I believe this team is gunning to “win now” and they also made that visible by picking up A.J. Green in free agency. The players that were/are great rookie pickups in the ole Madden 12 fantasy draft really still have years left of high-caliber play left in the tank. DeAndre Hopkins has also stated that he feels Green is “still in his prime”. 

The more dangerous, yet underlooked Cardinals team will finally look to close out more games with a more seasoned Kyler Murray. The electric dual-threat QB has already taken very positive strides in his young career. Murray went from winning offensive rookie of the year in 2019 to a more robust version of himself in 2020. Murray threw six more touchdowns and improved his passer rating from 57.7 in 2019 to 68.9 in 2020. The 5’10 Murray could realistically take that big stage step into his third year, just like Bills big arm Josh Allen had done. A more dazzling Murray with a team under the radar in its own division may very well unfold to be the third NFC West team to play in the Super Bowl in the past three years.

Why James Conner can be the star RB you’re not expecting

Draft Cardinals RB James Conner!

By: Brady Akins

Did people forget that James Conner is a good running back? Serious question.

Because as I look around the fantasy football landscape, looking at Conner’s overall RB36 projection on FantasyPros’ consensus rankings, I can’t help but feel as though maybe people did forget.

So let me remind you, James Conner is a good running back– and it wasn’t so long ago that he was a coveted fantasy football asset. Just three seasons ago, back in 2018, Conner finished as the overall RB6 in PPR leagues, ahead of other coveted players at the position like David Johnson, Melvin Gordon and Kareem Hunt.

But time passes, and the tide of public opinion shifts. Now with the Arizona Cardinals, Conner as seen as little more than an afterthought in fantasy football. Someone that broke too many hearts and destroyed too many leagues after being taken by many as a first-round player in 2019 to ever be trusted again.

Even after a bounceback 2020 season that saw Conner produce on a solid yet unspectacular level, the fantasy football managers of the world have collectively given Conner the cold shoulder, not trusting that a new team can bring him back to his 2018 ways.

But Conner’s 2020 season should give you hope that he can produce highly once again, especially with the change in scenery. 

Conner and The Cardinals 

People tend to think about the Pittsburgh Steelers, Conner’s former team, as a rough and tough throwback– the epitome of hard-nosed football with an emphasis on the trenches. 

But here’s the thing. The Steelers, without question, were anything but that in 2020. 

Pittsburgh presented an offensive line last season that struggled throughout the year– primarily in the run-blocking department, ranking 24th overall in ESPN’s run blocking win rate metric. It was difficult for the Steelers to get anything going on the ground at all with defenders barrelling down on the running backs the second the ball is snapped– which is a big part of why the Steelers finished dead last in total rushing yards and yards per attempt last season, as well as bottom five in carries.

You might think those numbers would reflect poorly on Conner, but actually, the former Pittsburgh Panther was one of the lone bright spots in the Steelers running game. Between Conner, Benny Snell, and Anthony McFarland, the Steelers had three different players with over 30 carries in 2020. And Ben Rothlisberger, who ran the ball 25 times for a ‘Lamar Jackson-esque’ 11 yards.

Not super important, but I do find that funny. 

All in all, Pittsburgh bottomed out with 3.6 yards per carry, but most of the negativity can be attributed to the Steelers’ ‘other guys’ as not a single player with over 10 carries, with the exception of Conner, averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry, weighing down the average. 

Conner, meanwhile, finished the year with 4.3 yards per carry, 721 yards, six touchdowns, on only 169 attempts. Not jaw-dropping numbers, mind you, but remember what the other running backs on the Pittsburgh roster were able to manage with a porous offensive line.

Also keep in mind that Conner’s production was not limited to just the ground game, either. The former Steeler has managed at least 34 catches in each of his past three seasons, with 35 last year for 215 yards. A down year in the receiving game relative to his 2018 standard, when Conner finished the year with 55 catches for nearly 500 yards.

That’s the thing with Conner. In a bottom-tier situation like the Steelers’ running game was in for 2020, the running back won’t wow anyone. But in good circumstances, with the right pieces around him, he can excel– just like he did in 2018.

Which is why his landing spot for 2021 should excite you.

Kenyan Drake, the Cardinals’ former starting running back, has left the building– leaving the door open for Conner to push for the starting job. If he gets it, he’ll be the top guy for an offense that ranked sixth last year in total carries, relative to the 28th run heaviest offense he played in with the Steelers.

Granted, many of those carries belong to quarterback Kyler Murray, and those aren’t going anywhere. But if Arizona relies on Conner the same way they did with Kenyan Drake, Conner will be receiving a career-high in carries, going from a career peak of 215 to the 239 Drake got in 2020.

Arizona wasn’t super fond of running backs sharing the wealth in 2020, either with Drake’s backup Chase Edmonds receiving less than half the carries the former Cardinals’ starter got. In comparison, while Conner led the Steelers in carries last season with 169, the backup Snell was right on his heels with 111.

Conner could very well become a three-down back with the Cardinals, receiving the volume he deserves in an offense that could get him back to his 2018 peak. To get prime James Conner back would mean getting a strong runner and an above-average pass catcher who could finish as an RB1.

While the path back to fantasy football stardom might be a long one that won’t pay dividends for a few years, expect Conner to at least surprise some folks in 2021 with mid-tier RB2 potential.

Potential landing spots for Chandler Jones

Where will Chandler Jones play next?

By: Reese Nasser

Nine-year NFL veteran Chandler Jones could be on the way out of Arizona. The linebacker has spent the last five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals but, at some point during this off-season, requested a trade. This could lead to Jones being gone before the start of the season. 

Joens has been one of the NFL’s most prolific pass rushers since he entered the league in 2012. He spent the first four years of his career with the New England Patriots. In those four years, Jones recorded 36 sacks and 38 tackles for loss. 

After being traded to Arizona in 2016, Jones took his play to an even higher level. Excluding the 2020 season where he appeared in just five games, Jones has been one of the NFL’s most prominent defensive players since he joined the Cardinals. From 2016 to 2019, his stretch was among the NFL’s elite. He racked up 60 sacks, 67 tackles for loss, and 98 quarterback hits.

With a potential trade on the horizon, there is speculation around where Jones could eventually be moved. There are multiple teams that could see Jones as the final piece needed for a strong Super Bowl run. Here are three potential landing spots for the two-time all-pro linebacker.

New England Patriots 

A return to New England could prove to be a real possibility for Jones. The Patriots have a deep group of veteran linebackers led by Kyle Van Noy, Donta Hightower, and Matt Judon, but Jones could join this defense and become their best pass rusher.

Jones is able to do things that Van Noy and Hightower cannot. And a pass-rushing duo of Jones and Judon could quickly become one of the best in the NFL. 

A trade would more than likely be centered around veteran Cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The Patriots could see a trade of these two defenders as necessary in order to get them closer to a top defense than they are. 

Miami Dolphins 

The situation in Miami is very similar to the one taking place in New England. Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard has asked for a restructured contract and the Dolphins could decide to package a deal around him instead of giving him the new deal. 

The Dolphins defense is fairly young in particular spots. Jones could step into a spot where he would not only be the lead edge rusher but where he could mentor younger players.

Miami selected linebacker Jaelen Phillips with the 18th pick in the draft. Having a player of Jones’ talent to learn from could be exactly what the rookie linebacker needs to become one of the NFL’s next great defensive players. 

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers could be an underrated trade partner for the Cardinals. Los Angeles finished 2020 with a 7-9 record and will look to build on that heading into this upcoming season. With the offense led by young quarterback Justin Herbert, this team has money to build.

If Jones wants a new contract, the Chargers could be the team that gives it to him. And the pairing of Jones alongside Joey Bosa could be too good to pass up on. 

Bosa appeared in 12 games last season and still recorded almost double-digit sacks and had 15 tackles for loss. He and Jones on both sides of the defensive line would be one of the top pass-rushing duos in the NFL. It could also be what this defense needs to be a top-5 unit in the league. 

3 reasons why the Arizona Cardinals can win the NFC West

Why the Arizona Cardinals can win the NFC West

By: Reese Nasser

Unlike in recent years, the NFC West is now up for the taking. The Seattle Seahawks roster is nearly identical to the team that they sent out last season and it took Russel Wilson nearly everything to get them a 12-4 record. The Los Angeles Rams made a huge splash and traded for quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford has proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and pairing him with Sean McVay could unlock a whole new offense for them. The San Francisco 49ers used their first-round pick on QB Trey Lance and it is still unknown who their starter will become in week one. They still have a top-ten defensive unit and will be a force to be reckoned with. And then there is the Arizona Cardinals. 

The Cardinals have been one of the more interesting teams in the NFL. Their coach, Kliff Kingsbury, is labeled as an offensive guru. They have some of the most talented players on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Up until the halfway point of last season, many people thought that it could be the Cardinals year. So is this their year? Will the NFC West be there for the taking? It just might be.

High Powered Offense 

On paper, the Cardinals have one of the best teams in the NFL. Each position is filled with someone who could be near the top of their position. Kyler Murray and Deandre Hopkins are clearly the main duo but when looking past them, the talent is still there. Chase Edmunds and James Connor could be a top-five backfield in the NFL. Include what Murray brings to the running game and this could become the best running team the NFL has seen in some time. And then there are the receivers. Deandre Hopkins is still here and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Let’s not forget what he did this season.

While Hopkins is the obvious head of the unit, the group also has stud rookie Rondale Moore out of Purdue and ex-Bengals wideout A.J. Green. If Green is able to have a resurgence, he could become one of the best free-agent signings of the offseason. Moore, while small, is a beast and can make plays.

If Kingsbury can put together this offense and utilize everyone correctly, the unit could take over not only the NFC West but also the NFL. 

Rebuilt Defense

In order to be successful playing in the NFC West, a quality defense is necessary. This is something that the Cardinals have struggled with in the past but it looks like it will be different this season. Arizona restructured their entire defense and will be sending out a much different unit than they did last year. The addition of three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt was just the start.

The Cardinals also added super bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler in free agency and re-signed linebacker Markus Golden. To top it off, Arizona selected linebacker Zaven Collins in the first round to pair with last year’s first round selection, Isaiah Simmons.

The defense will be led by solidified veterans in Chandler Jones, Byron Murphy Jr, and Budda Baker. It is clear that this defense was built to be athletic and modern, much like the offense. This unit is expected to make a large jump from last year, and with the players that they have leading the pack, it should happen.

Balanced Roster 

There is a clear balance to this roster. A strong foundation set by seasoned players. There is also a distinct mix of young and old. With older players such as J.J. Watt and A.J. Green being brought in, the Cardinals were able to add two players who have dominated the last decade. By drafting Zaven Collins and Rondale Moore, they have added athleticism at two of their most important positions. The mix of experiences could make for this to be a very fun team to watch. With Kyler Murray and Deandre Hopkins at the helm and Kingsbury leading the charge, this team can become the best in the NFC West. It’s their year to make it happen. 

Why Rondale Moore is the biggest draft steal at WR

WR Rondale Moore set to impress in 2021?

By: Ladarius Brown

When drafting, some teams position themselves to get the player they coveted. In other cases, some players fall to teams as they slide down the draft, getting great value. Looking back at the 2021 NFL Draft, one such player of value was WR Rondale Moore out of Purdue. Falling to the Arizona Cardinals in the 2nd round, Moore was a major steal. In a draft loaded with great WR talent, he could very well end up being that 1st round value that many (myself included) for the Cardinals.

At 5’9” 180 lbs., Moore is on the short side for the position but what he may lack in height, he makes up for with his speed. With an unofficial 40-time of 4.29, he possesses the big play ability on deep routes. Looking at Moore’s game, he can be a Tyreek Hill-like player on offense for the Cardinals and QB Kyler Murray: speed for days. To me, if there is anything you cannot teach in the NFL, it is speed.

In his freshman year at Purdue in 2018, Moore led the nation in receptions (114), receiving yards (1,258 yards), and a consensus All-American. Plus, he led in broken tackles with 33. In 2019, Moore was limited to just three games with a hamstring injury and played in three of the Boilermakers’ six games in 2020 due to finger and lower body injuries. Since that 2018 season, he had 64 receptions, 657 receiving yards, and 2 TDs combined in 2019 & 2020. It largely explains why he fell to round two.

However, Moore fell to a great team in the Cardinals because of HC Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid-style offense. This is a major reason why Moore could be the biggest steal. This offense relies heavily upon WRs. Moore was a slot receiver and occasionally was spotted in the backfield of the Boilermakers’ offense. He was utilized in the short and middle zones of the field, with the offense using many passing plays created to generate chances for him to get the ball in his hands in open space.

Looking at the Cardinals’ likely depth chart at WR, he is a 2nd option at the slot position but, with a 17-game schedule, Moore has the opportunity to be a No.1 option there as the season progresses. He has all the tools to be a great slot receiver in the NFL: fast, agility, explosiveness, solid hands, and run after the catch. He can take pressure off of their 3x All-Pro WR DeAndre Hopkins and could very well develop into a No. 2 option on the overall depth chart.

I can potentially see him also as a kick return option based on that explosiveness with the ball in his hands. His 5’9” 180 lbs. frame and sub 4.3 speed are a reminder of a player. This player was 5’11, 190 lbs. that was pretty good with the ball in his hands on special teams: Devin Hester. My point is that Moore’s size is not as big as a detriment because of his playmaking capability. If the Cardinals get that 2018 production out of Moore, he will be a major steal and a great player for years to come.

Why DeAndre Hopkins can win OPOY: time for nuk is now

Cardinals DeAndre Hopkins will dominate in 2021

By: Jason Ferris

The AP’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year award is an illustrious one rich in history and lore. Since it’s inception in 1972, the award has been handed out forty-nine times, with Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans being the most recent recipient. 

Scrolling through the list of past winners conjures up fond memories of dynasties such as Bill Walsh’s West Coast 49er teams and Marshall Faulk’s Greatest Show on Turf. But through all of the years of record-breaking performances and iconic moments, only two wide receivers have ever earned the coveted Offensive Player of the Year award: San Francisco’s Jerry Rice (1987 and 1993) and New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas (2019). That’s it. That’s the list. No Randy Moss. No Calvin Johnson. No, Michael Irvin.

It’s not hard to see that quarterbacks and running backs truly are the chosen ones when it comes to NFL awards. They are the cover boys who drive for the show while the rest putt for the proverbial dough.

But with all of the incredibly talented wide receivers that have entered the league in the past few years, not to mention this year’s sizzling incoming crop, it is only a matter of time before another wide receiver claims the title of NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. Question is, who will it be? DeAndre Hopkins. Sounds like a future Jeopardy answer that Aaron Rodgers might be giving and it should be. Hopkins is as elite a wide receiver as there is in the league today and oh, by the way, his quarterback is just about to enter his prime.

DeAndre Hopkins has been nominated for the OPOY before and he last finished runner up in 2018 to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and his ridiculous 52 total touchdowns. He is a highlight waiting to happen on every snap and his time has come. Here are the reasons why Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins will be crowned the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2021:

The Stats

In the world of sports, stats are important – Really important. Ever try to frame a house without screws? Well in sports, stats are those screws.

Hopkins’ 2020 season was exceptional for most but average for him. He posted 115 catches for 1407 yards and 6 touchdowns. Statistically, it was his fourth-best season in his eight-year career thus far.  He is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro. In his last six seasons, DeAndre Hopkins has been in the top 5 in receiving yards four times and top 3 in receptions in each of the last three years. He has posted 1,100 yards or more six times and soared over 1,500 twice.  Hopkins has the pedigree to win the OPOY award, of that there is no doubt. But had Derrick Henry not had the monster 2027 yard and 17 touchdown season, would DeAndre Hopkins have been considered for the award last year? Probably not.

Looking back at the past wide receiver winners of the OPOY award tells a story. In order to even be considered for the award, wide receivers have to go well beyond what is considered a ‘great’ season for their position. For example, when Michael Thomas won it in 2019, he posted 149 catches for 1724 yards, and 9 touchdowns. In 1987, Jerry Rice won the award after a season in which he scored 22 times. Both are astronomical in their own right but there have been other performances worthy of the award throughout the years.

The moral of the story is that if you are a wide receiver looking to take home the OPOY, be prepared to have to put up historical numbers in order to be considered. Otherwise, the award is going to the best quarterback or running back that year. Plain and simple. In order for Hopkins to take the hardware home next season, he is going to have to crush his career bests. And he will.

The Past

The Arizona Cardinals finished a blah 8-8 in 2020, good for third in the division and an early tee time rather than a playoff game. In a division that was there for the taking, the 2020 season was a disappointment. Losses to the lowly Dolphins, Patriots, and Lions, combined with two crucial losses to the division rival Rams summed up the 2020 season for the Cardinals. 

So for a team that scored 410 points (good for 13th in the league) and was 12th in total defense, why did that not translate into more wins? What went wrong? The answer is quite simple. Kyler Murray. Not his 67.2% completion (up from 64.4% in 2019), not his QB rating of 94.3 (up from 87.4 in 2019), nor was it his 26 TDs (up from 20 TDs in 2019). No statistically, Murray had an excellent sophomore year. He definitely improved over his rookie season. The problem with Murray in 2020 was that he was always on the run.

NFL teams took note of Kyler Murray’s impressive rookie season. So much so that the universal consensus amongst defensive coordinators was to turn up the heat on Murray. Teams dialed up a total of 156 blitzes against Murray in 2020, creating a pocket where he was pressured 16.7% of the time. Even though that was not the most in the league, it was enough to send Murray scrambling 56 times on broken plays. Having his quarterback rush 133 times for 819 yards (2nd on the team) pretty much drained the life out of DeAndre’s OPOY aspirations.  

The Future

It does not take a genius to see that Kyler Murray, and DeAndre Hopkins indirectly, could benefit from a little more time to execute timing and routes. The re-signing of Kelvin Beachum and Max Garcia was a good start but more line work needs to be done. The upcoming draft has Arizona picking at #16 and #49 in the first two rounds and although running back is a definite need, an offensive lineman should be gracing their draft board in the first round. OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) or OT Jackson Carman (Clemson) would look great in Cardinal red. 

Kliff Kingsbury also needs to ramp up Hopkins’s involvement for maximum production. DeAndre Hopkins lined up for only 92% of Arizona’s offensive plays last year. To give that stat some perspective, during Hopkin’s most productive years in 2015 and 2018, he was on the field for 97% and 99% of his teams’ snaps respectively. Now maybe the NFL’s version of ‘load management’ for it’s players is to monitor and manage a player’s snap count, but DeAndre Hopkins obviously thrives as a workhorse and benefits from the reps. Kliff if you are reading this, get Hopkins on the field more.

DeAndre Hopkins has the best chance of any wide receiver out there to win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award next season. Besides his obvious elite talent and very favorable playing situation with Kyler Murray, Hopkins personifies durability. In eight seasons (plus 6 playoff games), he has only missed a game twice. That is 132 out of 134 games for those of you trying to do the calculation. This, more than any other X factor, separates Hopkins from the rest. This will be the year that DeAndre putts for the dough and steals the show.

Best Destinations For James Conner

Should The Jets Sign Conner?

By: Chandler Hyler

James Conner, former Pittsburgh Steeler running back is still looking for his next home. As we have moved past the first, second, and maybe even third waves of free agency, Conner is still on the market. While he will certainly be brought in by a franchise this year, that really is not the question; it is just which franchise will bring the former 2018 Pro Bowler in.

Conner has had an up and down career, hardly seeing the field in 2017 as the Steelers still were represented by one of the top backs in the league at the time, Le’Veon Bell. In the following year, Bell had his controversial contract dispute which led to him missing the entire season. Conner would actually be the beneficiary of this, as he was given his opportunity to shine, and he capitalized. He amassed 973 rushing yards while adding another 497 receiving yards. He would also reach the end zone 13 times in his scratching the surface debut season.

In the following years, Conner has not been as productive as he has battled though not only injuries, but a struggling offensive output in general. Since the departure of Offensive Line Coach in 2019, Mike Munchak, the Steelers run game as a unit has plunged significantly. The air-raid offense that has been led by a quarterback who is meeting father time also has not worked out Conner’s benefit.

Is Conner the 2018 version, where we saw him reach the Pro Bowl, or was that lone season a mirage in a very efficient offense? Regardless, I think it would be wise for both sides, Conner and his future team to come to terms on a one-year prove-it type deal so neither team mortgages their future on an unknown commodity. So, which teams could possibly roll the dice on Conner?

  1. Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills have been one of the few teams that are connected to possible first-round pick Najee Harris in the 2021 NFL Draft. What that tells us is that they are a team looking for a running back, and while I believe Harris is definitely the better option at this point, you could see a team like the Miami Dolphins pick him before he drops to pick number 30. With that said, This Bills team is ready to win now, as they made it to the AFC Championship game last year, but they just couldn’t surpass the juggernaut in the Kansas City Chiefs. If you subtract Quarterback Josh Allen’s rushing yards from that game, they would have totaled 41 rushing yards, and nine of those came from weapon Isiah McKenzie. If this team wants to make a late push again, and get over the hump, it would be wise for them to address the backfield. Conner hasn’t been the most reliable, but he would not need twenty touches a game in this offense. Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll could limit his touches until January football, and this could be the extra ingredient needed to keep defenses honest against Allen and crew,

2. New York Jets

As the New York Jets look to rebuild their roster under first-year head coach Robert Saleh, they will need some veteran faces inside the huddle and locker room. They are basically penciled in to select quarterback Zach Wilson out of BYU with the second overall pick in this year’s draft, and a quarterback’s best friend can be a good ground game. Conner would help take some pressure off of Wilson, and at the minimum keep the opposing defense honest. Conner could be brought in on a one-year deal, enough to come in and give him the chance to show the other 31 teams in the NFL that 2018 was not an anomaly, and helps rookie signal-caller and head coach get through their first year as a pairing.

3. Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals are a wildcard in the running for Conner, and there really aren’t any outstanding connections that I’m at least aware of. That being said, they just lost running back Kenyan Drake to the Las Vegas Raiders, so there is a chance to upgrade their backfield. Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury wants to build a potent offense, and with the weapons that they currently have at wide receiver including All-Pro Deandre Hopkins, and a lightning bolt at quarterback in Kyler Murray, Conner could add the final dimension to this offense. He is an able pass-catcher and is a tough runner. Adding pass rusher JJ Watt tells me that this team believes it is in its window right now, and adding Conner could be a valuable piece to add to their offense.

4. Miami Dolphins

Head Coach Brian Flores is building quite the team in Miami and has proven to be a great hire. As he continues to look for pieces to upgrade his offense, Conner could be a name that warrants attention. Out of every team in the running for running back Najee Harris, the Miami Dolphins seem to have the most smoke surrounding them. They actually pick in front of the Steelers as well as the Bills. If for whatever reason they are unable to land Harris, they could turn to Conner as a veteran presence to be behind second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Their defense is solid and is backed by a great secondary; their offense is the unit that needs improvement. The AFC East is a division that is clearly led by the Buffalo Bills, but the window to finish second is surely up for grabs, and if the Dolphins can add some weapons, they could push for a wild card spot in the upcoming season’s playoffs. Adding a playmaker on the outside at the top of the draft, some protection for Tua at pick number 18, and adding Conner could beef this offense up in just a few transactions.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Conner could be the last resorts for both sides in this situation. As the Bills and Dolphins, the Steelers are interested in Alabama product Najee Harris. If they are unable to land Harris and aren’t able to find a running back they like in this year’s crop, we could see the Steelers look towards the familiar face in Conner. The same goes for Conner, if he is unable to get what he wants out of the open market, he could accept the chance to stay home and try to pull one more productive season out of the black and yellow. This seems like it could be the last ride for Steelers’ current quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, bringing back Conner could be similar to the situation that brought Wide Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster back to the Steel City. One last ride for this Steelers roster, and we could see it blown up the following season.

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