The Pittsburgh Steelers are once again staring at the potential of not having top running back James Conner in a key late-season matchup. While the Steelers (7-5-1) are attempting to hold on and win the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens are hot on their trail with a 7-6 record. In Week 15, the Steelers face a tall task against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and Conner remains the main talking point currently.
Heading into this game, the Steelers have now dropped three-straight and could certainly use their go-to running back. Conner’s status has remained up in the air throughout the week due to an ankle injury, but we’re going to take a look at the latest on the situation. If he’s unable to play, then the work would trickle down to both Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley.
Along with that, for Conner and Samuels/Ridley, I’ll dive into the fantasy football matchup and outlook for the two this week, regardless of how the injury situation plays out.
Latest on James Conner’s Injury
It’s been somewhat of a strange week on the injury front for Conner, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him playing in Week 15. Shortly after, fans saw Conner sit out throughout the first practices of the week, missing both Wednesday and Thursday. In turn, this obviously leaves his status very much in doubt.
The real eye-opening comment, though, came from offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on Thursday afternoon. As NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala revealed, Fichtner made it known Conner does not need to practice in order to play against the Patriots.
With RB James Conner still not practicing, #Steelers OC Randy Fichtner joked about taking head trainer John Norwig pizza, lunch, whatever he wants.
More seriously, Fichtner said he does not believe Conner needs to practice to play Sunday vs the #Patriots: "He's played a LOT."
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) December 13, 2018
With that being the case, it does leave the door open for Conner to potentially suit up, assuming he’s not ruled out prior to the weekend. The Steelers could opt to list him as questionable or doubtful and see how his ankle responds over the weekend.
As NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport revealed, Conner was able to practice on Friday, doing so in limited fashion. He’s now listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
#Steelers RB James Conner practiced today for the first time since spraining his ankle. He’s officially listed as questionable vs. the #Patriots.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 14, 2018
James Conner’s Fantasy Matchup & Outlook
If the Steelers dub Conner as healthy enough to play, it’s tough to envision him not seeing a large workload. After all, each game moving forward is vital for the team’s playoff outlook, and if they slip up and fall behind the Ravens, they’d be battling to even make the postseason.
On the opposite side of that, a win over the Patriots would not only boost their playoff chances but potentially put them in position to jump up the standings. While Conner’s matchup with the Patriots isn’t an elite one, it’s not bad either. If able to go, he faces a defense who’s allowed 1,233 rushing yards on 259 attempts (4.8 yards per carry) along with six touchdowns. Most importantly, New England has also given up 79 receptions for 698 yards and four receiving scores through the air to opposing running backs.
The matchup against the Patriots would be appealing enough and Conner is a locked-in fantasy starter if he plays. But if not, players would be wise to look at Samuels as an option again, specifically in point-per-reception leagues. While filling in for Conner last week, the rookie caught seven passes for 64 yards but did have a tough time on the ground.
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