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Pitt in the Pros

Former Pitt RB James Conner Prioritizing Leadership Entering Eighth NFL Season



Former Pitt running back James Conner.

James Conner has been around the NFL for seven seasons now, and in an age when NFL running backs wear down with age, he’s only getting better.

Conner — a 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back from Erie, Pa. — is coming off his first 1,000-yard season, despite missing a month of action. Individual success is one thing, but Conner is entering his fourth — and potentially final — season with the Arizona Cardinals from a veteran perspective. He wants to lead a winning team.

“It’s a great responsibility,” Conner told local Cardinals reporters, including All Cardinals’ Donnie Druin. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be in a leadership role here. It’s just who I am. I just want to turn things around out here.

“We got a great football team, we’re coached really well, so we want to have that reflect on our record, and our play this season, so I just feel like I got to speak up.”

Conner racked up 200 scrimmage yards against the Seattle Seahawks to finish the 2023 season on a high note. He recorded 208 carries for 1,040 yards (5 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns — adding 27 receptions for 165 yards and two more touchdowns.

Conner set a career-high in rushing yards, rushing yards per carry, rushing yards per game despite missing four games in the middle of the season due to injury. But he wants more.

“That’s the floor,” Conner said. “I want that to be the lowest I’ve rushed for in my career going forward. Definitely got a lot of work to put in. But that’s the floor, not the ceiling.”

Conner, who started his NFL career with the Steelers after a standout career at Pitt, has racked up 1,125 carries for 4,876 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 50 touchdowns — adding 234 receptions for 1,803 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air.

He’s now through three seasons in Arizona, his seventh season in the NFL, after being drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

In four seasons at Pitt, missing most of his third season due to an ACL tear (and a cancer diagnosis), Conner rushed for 3,733 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and 52 touchdowns — adding 30 receptions for 412 yards (13.7 yards per reception) and four touchdowns.

Conner is second all-time in career rushing yards at Pitt (with the fourth-highest single-season total), and second in career-rushing touchdowns at Pitt (with the highest single-season total).

As he nears his eighth NFL season, coming off perhaps the best season of his NFL career, it’s a testament to his remarkable willpower in overcoming the roadblocks in his life on the way to a very successful NFL career.

Conner has one more season on his contract, and he will hit free agency in 2025 as a 30-year-old running back without too much tread on his tires. And he will — potentially — be coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL.

He would love to stay in Arizona long-term but understands it’s a business. If he’s able to put together another strong season, though, he’ll be in line for another lucrative contract.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Tom D
Tom D
13 days ago

One of my favorite Panthers. What a great career. Steelers choose Benny Snell over James Connor. I never understood that. Najee and Connor as a tandem backfield would have been pretty good. I wish James continued success.

9 days ago
Reply to  Tom D

The best way to understand it is that Mike Tomlin is the coach.

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