While the Jaguars have been continually linked to the top two running backs in the 2017 NFL Draft class — Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette — I still believe grabbing an elite defensive talent with the fourth overall pick too add to the defensive line, EDGE rusher in particular, is the optimal move for this team to make and get better.
However, if the Jaguars are to target a running back at all during this draft, look no further than University of Pittsburgh’s storied running back James Conner.
Before I get into Conner’s film and production, let’s first dive into his story. Conner was the 2014 ACC Player of the Year and many had him on their Heisman watch list for his 2015 season. However, at the start of his 2015 season, Conner tore his MCL and was ruled out for the season. As he was monitored for his injury, his doctors discovered he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma — cancer.
He faced and conquered 12 chemotherapy sessions while rehabbing from his MCL tear, and still practiced with the team:
In May of 2016, Conner was declared cancer-free, and he got right back to work. He started Week 1 of the 2016 season.
Just yesterday, Adam Schefter confirmed that James Conner had been tested yet again and deemed completely free of cancer:
Pitt RB James Conner, who missed most of 2015 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, received a clean scan today, a week prior to combine, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 23, 2017
The touching story itself proves one thing: James Conner is a hard worker. He wants it.
And, based on his level of play, he’s gonna get it.
Conner stands at 6-2, 240 lbs, and is a power running back. It takes a multiple guys to bring him down:
Conner is pretty fast for a 240 lb running back as well. He can stretch the field with his speed, and displays great vision in finding holes at both the first and second level:
His ability to break tackles is insane — he’s a power back. This play looked dead at the one yard line, but Conner was able to break away twice on a spin move and power break to gain an additional 10 yards before being tackled by three defenders:
The next clip summarizes what makes me love James Conner’s style of play. He’s incredibly tough to bring down, and although he doesn’t have great breakaway speed, he has enough to get outside and pose as a threat with his strength as tacklers come his way.
Conner also is a great pass blocker, and is used to working in a pro-style offense, which should help his transition into the NFL tremendously:
To add to his all-around game, Conner is a solid receiving back as well. Here, he slides by the EDGE rusher and finds space in the flats on the fake handoff, and from there on Conner broke off for 20 yards:
What will scare teams away from Conner is his MCL tear, and unfortunately, his cancer, if there’s any chance of it coming back. Skill-wise, my only concern is his break away speed when he gets into the secondary, but all in all he knows how to create plays with defenders swarming and carries the strength to break tackles without slowing down.
Right now, Conner is projected to be a late Day 2/early Day 3 pick. If he’s there in the 4th round of the NFL Draft, the Jaguars should seriously consider adding his power-running game to their backfield.