The Pittsburgh Steelers made it all the way to the AFC Title game last season, but they’ll need more from these five players to reach the Super Bowl.
One of the hardest things to do in the NFL is to take your team from good to great. That’s precisely the challenge that lies in front of Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. If they want to reach the promised land, they’re going to need increased contributions all over the field.
In fairness, quite a few Steelers stars had big years in 2017. It’s hard to imagine Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell having more productive seasons. Ben Roethlisberger also deserves a lot of credit for having a Pro Bowl caliber season at quarterback. The Pittsburgh offense was quite a handful for opposing defenses last season. There are quite a few reasons the team finished third in the NFL in yards per game at 377.9 last season.
The defense was pretty effective too, but there’s more individual room for improvement on that side of the ball. Tomlin deserves credit for leading this group to the seventh spot in points per game last year. If the Steelers are going to take a significant step forward, it’s likely going to be the product of a few defensive stalwarts taking solid steps forward.
It may be difficult for Pittsburgh to have a better season this year, but if they do, you can take a look at these five players to see who can raise their game. The Steelers best chance to elevate their performance lies with these five guys.
5. James Conner
It might surprise some to see the Steelers backup running back make this list. The reality is that James Conner needs to play better to take some pressure off of Le’Veon Bell.
The former Pittsburgh Panthers runner played in 14 games for the Steelers last season but he only managed to earn 32 carries. The team would benefit greatly from Conner toting the ball at least twice as often this year.
The curious thing about Conner’s 2017 campaign is that he was pretty effective when Tomlin actually let him run the ball. Averaging 4.5 yards per carry is pretty solid for an NFL running back. Conner certainly isn’t as dangerous in the open field as Bell, but he did enough to merit more touches.
You have to think that Tomlin will trust Conner more after having him in the system for a full year. James Conner isn’t a rookie anymore and the number of carries he gets should reflect that fact. If the Steelers offense is going to run on all cylinders for 16 games, they need Conner to give them a credible alternative to Le’Veon Bell.