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2017 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

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Conner is a powerful runner with an inspiring story. Is he also a future Giant?

Pitt v Oklahoma State Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The New York Giants did an incredible job of rebuilding in the 2016 offseason.

Rarely do investments in the draft and free agency pay off as quickly or as well as the ones the Giants made in 2015 and 2016.

However, there is still work to be done.

They need to go about retaining their own quality free agents and they still have holes that need to be filled, or at least upgraded. To do that they might need to make some difficult choices with aging veterans, one of whom being running back Rashad Jennings.

Jennings is entering the final year of his contract and his guaranteed money is already paid. If they so choose, the Giants could release him to free up cap space. But while that would help them re-sign players like Jason Pierre-Paul and Johnathan Hankins, it would also create a new void as the Giants would almost completely lose the “power” aspect of their running game.

Fortunately, this draft is absolutely loaded at the running back position, and they could look to draft a (somewhat) under-the-radar power back like Pittsburgh’s James Conner

Measurables

Height - 6 feet, 2 inches (listed)

Weight - 240 pounds (listed)

40 Time - 4.67 (projected)

Pros

  • Excellent blend of size, speed, and athleticism
  • Almost impossible to arm-tackle, and very difficult for a lone defender to bring down
  • Surprising speed for a big player. Has the ability to turn a broken tackle into a big gain
  • Incredibly determined runner. Refuses to go down and always fights for every inch while being tackled
  • Good hands as a receiver. Doesn’t fight the ball when catching it
  • Scored 20 combined touchdowns in 2016 (16 rushing, 4 receiving) to go with 1394 total yards from scrimmage

Cons

  • Medical red flags: Diagnosed with Hodgekins Lymphoma in december of 2015 (recovered in 6 months and played in 2016). Also missed most of the 2015 season with an MCL injury
  • 40 time will be a question after knee surgery and cancer
  • Not terribly scheme diverse. Best suited to power runs in either a man-gap scheme or inside zone blocking scheme.

Does He Fit With The Giants?

I’m going to say yes.

His medical history could scare the Giants off, but the determination and mental toughness he has shown to come back is beyond inspiring. The bigger question is whether or not the knee injury, cancer, and cancer treatment has had an effect on his physical abilities or his ability to stay healthy in the future.

As a running back, he would be a good complement to the smaller, quicker Paul Perkins, allowing the Giants to have something of a 1-2 punch like they featured with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward.

With their best linemen being left guard Justin Pugh and center Western Richburg, the Giants tend to run between the tackles, which fits Conner’s game well. He is also a capable pass protector, so he should be able to see the field early.

Prospect Video

Big Board Rankings

Big Blue View - N/A

Mocking The Draft - N/A

CBS Sports - 158th overall

Draft Countdown - Not in top 100

Draft Tek - 204th overall

Final Thoughts

If I’m a football player or a coach, I want James Conner on my team.

His toughness, both play-in, play-out and in overcoming his knee injury and cancer in the span of a year can only help a team. The Giants, in particular, could really use the intense physicality he brings. While agile “shifty” running backs like LeSean McCoy or Paul Perkins produce plenty of “WOW” moments and highlight reel plays, I can’t help but love a physical power back like Conner. At his best, his physicality reminds some of a young Brandon Jacobs, while his slightly wide-footed and incredibly determined running style is shades of Marshawn Lynch.

Conner’s combine is going to be vital to his draft stock. He will undoubtedly undergo every single medical test available, and his 40 time will undergo close scrutiny. If he checks out medically and runs well, his draft stock will likely see a significant boost.