The Pittsburgh Steelers the NFL’s worst rushing attack by a fair margin last season (84.4 yards per game). Some of that was a function of a pass-heavy offense (28th in attempts). But they also averaged a league-worst 3.6 yards per carry.
James Conner led the Steelers with 721 rushing yards in 2020. But he’s a free agent, and Brooke Pryor of ESPN has reported the Steelers are unlikely to re-sign him. So they will either be leaning on incumbents (Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland), or they’ll sign or draft someone else. Cap concerns are the cloud hanging over that possible move in free agency.
On the idea of replacing Conner, as the tea leaves have read that way all along, ESPN’s Mike Clay has predicted the Steelers to sign Kenyan Drake.
Drake has spent the last season and a half with the Arizona Cardinals. He had a nice run over eight games in 2019, after being acquired from the Miami Dolphins (643 yards, eight touchdowns-5.2 yards per carry). The Cardinals transition tagged him last offseason, instead of signing him to a long-term deal. That proved to be the right move.
Looking past that 10 in the touchdown column last season, Drake averaged just 4.0 yards per carry with little as a pass catcher (25 catches, 5.5 yards per catch). He could be brought back to Arizona, but they should aim higher via free agency or the draft. Or they could give Chase Edmonds more playing time, and likely sign a different (lower-end) veteran to be his backup. Arizona’s options don’t have to include Drake, and he shouldn’t be back unless all else fails.
The Steelers are right to move on from Conner, as he has had trouble staying on the field and he’s not a high-end talent. The question is if Drake would be an upgrade. Or, maybe they’d be better off to just give Snell and McFarland more opportunity. Besides difference in cost for a team with cap issues, Drake is not necessarily that much better than Snell.