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James Conner Gets the Job All to Himself in Arizona, Big Fantasy Potential

NFL Fantasy
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James Conner is staying put in Arizona after agreeing to a three-year, $21 million deal that includes a hefty $13.5 million in fully guaranteed money. This news comes on the heels of Chase Edmonds bouncing for Miami, which essentially locks Conner in as a three-down back for the Cardinals.

(Follow along with all of the big free agency reactions here!)

After flaming out with the Steelers, Conner arrived in Arizona with little fanfare and relatively low expectations. The fantasy cognoscenti was largely on Edmonds as the preferred option in Arizona during the 2021 fantasy football draft season. But Conner proved to be the quintessential short-yardage timeshare back, racking up a hefty 8 rushing scores while sharing the load with Edmonds over the first eight weeks of the season. Edmonds was still the slightly better fantasy option over that span, ranking 17th among running backs in fantasy scoring. But Conner was the classic touchdown vulture who sat just five spots back at RB22.

 

To be fair, Edmonds was clearly the more exciting player over that span. He was a big play waiting to happen with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Conner plodded his way to a pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry. But a funny thing happened in Week 9. Edmonds went down with an injury and Conner played like a man possessed. In that contest against the 49ers, he racked up 21 carries for 96 yards and two scores to go along with five catches for 77 yards and another score. It was like 2018 all over again with Conner feasting in a three-down role.

Edmonds remained sidelined through Week 14. Over that stretch, Conner ranked second among running backs in fantasy scoring, with only Jonathan Taylor posting more fantasy points. He touched the ball 109 times over that five-game stretch, which is a hefty 21.8 timers per game, and found the end zone at least once in every contest. Of course, his efficiency on the ground remained lackluster at just 3.56 yards per carry during that stretch, but he also managed 11.4 yards per catch.

With Edmonds out of the mix, Conner has essentially no competition for touches in the Cardinals backfield. While he was very effective in a three-down role last season, it’s hard to envision Arizona not bringing in a complimentary piece in the backfield. Weather via the draft or free agency, a pass-catching back seems likely. 

Still, Conner would figure to be on the right side of the committee with another 200-plus carry season on tap. At the same time, he’s all but a lock for touchdown regression. Players just don’t maintain that level of efficiency over a sustained period of time. He scored 18 times last season and finished as fantasy’s No. 5 running back. A more reasonable expectation of 7-10 touchdowns would put him in mid-range RB2 territory, which is a fair range to view him heading into 2022.

 
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