Derek Wolfe | James Conner
© Ron Chenoy | 2018 Nov 25
Derek Wolfe | James Conner © Ron Chenoy | 2018 Nov 25

Few NFL players are tougher — mentally and physically — than Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner.

His incredible winning battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, not to mention full recovery from a serious knee injury in the same year, have been well-documented. He surely knows more about adversity than most, and something as minuscule as Le'Veon Bell failing to report to the Steelers two weeks ago — subsequently locking Conner into a workhorse role for Pittsburgh's stretch drive — pales in comparison to the pressure situations he's exceeded in.

That's why Conner's struggles over that span have been so surprising and notable.

After averaging 4.7 yards per carry and more than a touchdown per game over his first nine, Conner has managed only 3.5 and has more turnovers (1) than touchdowns in his past two games, coincidentally or not, the first two since Bell's 2018 fate was sealed.

Conner's first lost fumble since Week 1 came at a most inopportune time, too, with the Steelers driving in Denver territory on the final play of the third quarter Sunday in what ultimately became their first loss since September. That was on the heels of Conner dropping a would-be game-winning touchdown in the come-from-behind win in Jacksonville.

There certainly are other possible factors to help explain Conner's recent funk, including a monster workload, the likes of which he's never handled; and facing two tough, top-10 defenses in the Jags and Broncos.

That's why we're giving Conner, our RB6 overall this week, the benefit of the doubt in the final week of the regular season, something we lament not doing in the first week of the regular season. The Chargers come to town having allowed only seven combined touchdowns to backs — tied for the third-fewest in the league — but three of those were rung up by Denver's Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman only two weeks ago.

And with his and the Steelers' backs against the wall Sunday night, we're expecting a big performance against the Bolts, who are far more susceptible defensively against the run than pass. All three of Pittsburgh's losses have come when Conner hasn't crested 15 carries; he'll be very busy this weekend.

1. Todd Gurley, Rams at Lions

2. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys vs. Saints

3. Alvin Kamara, Saints at Cowboys

4. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers at Bucs

5. James Conner, Steelers vs. Chargers

6. Saquon Barkley, Giants vs. Bears

7. Aaron Jones, Packers vs. Cardinals

8. Phillip Lindsay, Broncos at Bengals

9. Matt Breida, 49ers at Seahawks

10. Nick Chubb, Browns at Texans

11. David Johnson, Cardinals at Packers

12. Joe Mixon, Bengals vs. Broncos

13. Gus Edwards, Ravens at Falcons

14. Spencer Ware, Chiefs at Raiders

15. Lamar Miller, Texans vs. Browns

16. Dalvin Cook, Vikings at Patriots

17. Sony Michel, Patriots vs. Vikings

18. James White, Patriots vs. Vikings

19. Chris Carson, Seahawks vs. 49ers

20. Josh Adams, Eagles at Washington

21. Dion Lewis, Titans vs. Jets

22. Tevin Coleman, Falcons vs. Ravens

23. Adrian Peterson, Washington vs. Eagles

24. LeSean McCoy, Bills at Dolphins

25. Austin Ekeler, Chargers at Steelers

26. Tarik Cohen, Bears at Giants

27. Mark Ingram, Saints at Cowboys

28. Frank Gore, Dolphins vs. Bills

29. Doug Martin, Raiders vs. Chiefs

30. Isaiah Crowell, Jets at Titans

31. Peyton Barber, Bucs vs. Panthers

32. LeGarrette Blount, Lions vs. Rams

33. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars vs. Colts

34. Carlos Hyde, Jaguars vs. Colts

35. Jordan Howard, Bears at Giants

36. Nyheim Hines, Colts at Jaguars

37. Kenyan Drake, Dolphins vs. Bills

38. Jalen Richard, Raiders vs. Chiefs

39. Duke Johnson, Browns at Texans

40. Royce Freeman, Broncos at Bengals

41. Justin Jackson, Chargers at Steelers

42. Jordan Wilkins, Colts at Jaguars

43. Elijah McGuire, Jets at Titans

44. Gio Bernard, Bengals vs. Broncos

45. Theo Riddick, Lions vs. Rams

46. Corey Clement, Eagles at Washington

47. Rashaad Penny, Seahawks vs. 49ers

48. Ty Montgomery, Ravens at Falcons

49. Alfred Blue, Texans vs. Browns

50. Malcolm Brown, Rams at Lions

Not listed because of injuries: Kerryon Johnson, Melvin Gordon, Marlon Mack, Alex Collins