The Case for James Conner and Chris Carson

by Ikey Azar · Dynasty Leagues

Every season there are players that people want to avoid whether it is because of injury risk or speculation of a RBBC situation that has yet to pass. People were afraid of Aaron Jones and Chris Carson because of committee potential and the fact that both had missed multiple games in each of their first two seasons. Those that took them after the first two rounds reaped the rewards as Jones finished No. 3 among qualified running backs with 19.7 Fantasy Points Per Game and Carson finished with a 15.5 (No. 12) mark. Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette were labeled injury prone. Cook finished with 20.9 (No. 2) Fantasy Points Per Game and Fournette with a 17.3 (No. 9) mark. Here are the cases for two mid-round running backs with clear RB1 potential in 2020 according to the advanced stats.

James Conner

James Conner went down with the entire offensive ship in Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger went down to injury. Mike Tomlin has already come out this offseason stating his belief in a workhorse running back approach, confirming that if Conner stays healthy he can finish as a top tier fantasy back. He saw a major difference in quality and quantity of opportunities in 2019.

James Conner Opportunity Metrics 2018 vs. 2019

Despite injuries and the lack of quality opportunities, Conner was able to improve his own efficiency, increasing his Juke Rate and Yards Created per Touch.

James Conner Efficiency Metrics 2018 vs. 2019

Taking the risk on both Roethlisberger and Conner’s health can pay huge dividends. The Steelers project to increase their overall play and passing volume from 2019, which was a key component of Conner’s 2019 season where he averaged 5.5 (No. 9) targets per game. Even with least season’s decreased opportunity, he still finished with 14.6 (No. 16) Fantasy Points Per Game. If he reaches similar opportunity totals to what he saw in 2018, we’ve already seen what he can do when he finished with 21.2 (No. 7) Fantasy Points per Game.

Chris Carson

Pete Carroll is known to put heavy stock into practice/camp battles, with third round rookie Russell Wilson famously winning the starting quarterback job in camp. In 2017, undrafted rookie Chris Carson beat out Eddie Lacy to be the starting running back. Carson is an underrated athlete with a 127.9 (87th-percentile) Burst Score and a 120.8 (77th-percentile) SPARQ-x score. Four games into the start of his career, he fractured an ankle and missed the rest of the season. The following year, Seattle drafted Rashaad Penny with their first round pick. Carson, despite coming off injury, beat out Penny for the starting role. He proved he earned that job, recording 93 (No. 3) Evaded Tackles with a 34.8-percent (No. 6) Juke Rate and 4.9-percent (No. 29) Breakaway Run Rate despite running behind a line providing a 71.0 (No. 33) Run Blocking Efficiency rating.

Once again during the 2019 offseason, speculation was that Penny would either win the job or at least make it a close timeshare. Carson once again won the job and was rewarded with plenty of opportunity. While many believed he was more of a plodder, he proved again that his 2018 metrics were not flukey. He posted a 4.7-percent (No. 17) Breakaway Run Rate, 85 (No. 6) Evaded Tackles, and a 27.0-percent (No. 15) Juke Rate. This behind a worse offensive line that put up a 63.8 (No. 46) Run Blocking Efficiency grade.

Check out Chris Carson’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:

Carson was not considered a pass catching back, however he posted an 83.3-percent Catch Rate in 2018 and a 80.4-percent (No. 15) Catch Rate in 2019 while almost doubling his total receptions. 

With all that said, fantasy players still shy away from Carson despite the fact that Penny tore his ACL in Week 14 of last season and should start this season on the PUP list at minimum. With Penny hurt, the Seahawks did not bring in much competition, spending a fourth round pick on DeeJay Dallas and signing veteran Carlos Hyde. We shouldn’t be worried about Hyde because we know he is basically a zero in the passing game, recording only ten (No. 71) catches last season with a 62.5-percent Catch Rate. He was not nearly as efficient as Carson last season despite all of his opportunity, with a 16.9-percent (No. 44) Juke Rate, 43 (No. 26) Evaded Tackles, and a 3.7-percent (No. 29) Breakaway Run Rate while being provided a 78.0 (No. 18) Run Blocking Efficiency score. 

With all that opportunity, lack of competition, and tethered to a potent offense led by Russell Wilson, Carson will be a steal with an FFPC ADP outside the top 40.