James Conner had his mind made up he was going to play this season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back is a cancer survivor, as he dealt with Stage 2 Hogdkin’s lymphoma during the 2015-16 college football offseason. After being diagnosed with cancer in December 2015, Conner was cancer-free by May 2016, all while continuing to practice with the Pittsburgh Panthers football team. He has spent his entire NFL career with the Steelers thus far.
“I was excited to get back here around my teammates and be around football again,” said Conner in a videoconference on Wednesday afternoon. “I still haven’t thought about it. There was no question I would play this year.”
James Conner has his best shot to win a Super Bowl with Pittsburgh in 2020.
With a future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback in the twilight of his illustrious career in Ben Roethlisberger, it’s now or never if the Steelers want to win a third Super Bowl with “Big Ben” as their quarterback. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery and only played in two games last year for the Steelers. There’s a chance he could be also-ran, but he may have one more big year left in him.
“I’m going on four years removed from cancer,” said Conner. “I didn’t have to talk to my family. It never was a concern for me. I’ve been healthy for years now. It was an easy decision for me. Not much thought went into it. I wanted to play football. I’m healthy, and my immune system is back healthy. I’m ready.”
It’s not just a critical year for Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ Super Bowl dreams, it’s also a huge year for Conner professionally. He was selected by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh. While he has made his team’s fanbase forget about who Le’Veon Bell is, Conner is playing in a contract year for the Steelers, poised to make bank in 2021.
Conner was a Pro Bowler in 2018, but has never rushed for 1,000 yards in an NFL season. He may be a legend at his alma mater, but this is a year where Conner has to prove he’s worth paying the big bucks to. If he plays closer to what he did as a second-year player in 2018, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert may end up giving him a new deal or slapping him with the franchise tag.
All we know is Conner never even really considered opting out, despite being seen as “high-risk”.