Pitt RB James Conner is the Most Inspirational 2017 NFL Draft Prospect



You can heat your home from the takes we heard on LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey this past bowl cycle. However, Pittsburgh‘s James Conner is a stellar running back pro prospect who flew under the radar in this past news cycle.

Conner made up his mind to declare for the draft after the regular season ended and before he suiting up and played in the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium.

“James Conner, he is a legacy player at Pitt,” says Head Coach Pat Narduzzi after the bowl game, Conner’s final collegiate game. “He’s been an inspiration to everybody. He’s going to have a heckuva NFL career, I’ll tell you that.”

pinstripe bowl

The 2014 ACC player of the year, and the conference’s all-time leader in touchdowns left the contest early due to a head injury. Without their star player, and starting quarterback Nathan Peterman who also left early due to injury, the Panthers fell behind and lost to Northwestern 31-24 in an extremely entertaining and hard fought game.

“Conner got a hit the head…One of the defenders went for him I guess, instead of going for the ball. Kinda interesting,” said Narduzzi postgame.

No matter where James Conner is going come April, where he’s been already is beyond astounding. He’s overcome injuries to his medial collateral ligament in his right knee (2015 season opener) and a very public battle with Hodgkin lymphoma (last winter). Conner underwent months of cancer treatment that result in depleted immunity.


Treatments for Hodgkin’s disease (the same disease that another Pittsburgh sporting legend Mario Lemieux developed and later overcame) often result in a dangerous reduction of white blood cell count, the fighter cells which stave off infection. When a patient’s neutrophils drop to a dangerous level, the individual must weak a surgical mask for protection from contracting infection.

James Conner wore one while practicing! Yes, he played football in this susceptible condition!

If Conner can overcome all this, then the scouting combine in Indianapolis, pro days and the rest of the draft process should be a breeze.

“Running backs already have a short lifespan,” Conner told lockhaven.com in one of his final college football interviews.

“Wish I could have done more (at Pitt) to be honest, team wise, better records and stuff. I feel like I’m ready. That’s my dream, going to the NFL and I’m just asking for the opportunity.”

pitt panthers mascot

So where does he project in this year’s draft? Here’s his scouting report via Walter Football:

While Conner’s comeback story is amazing, it’s incomplete. Conner played very well this season, but didn’t quite look like the Conner of old. NFL sources we spoke to agreed, opining that Conner should return to school for one more year in an effort to finish his rehabilitation. In that case, had Conner been like his former self, he could’ve been chosen in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

As it stands now, Conner is projected to be chosen early on Day 3 this April. I don’t fault Conner for declaring at all, given his injury history, so I won’t mark this down as a bad move. However, I would’ve preferred him to go back to Pittsburgh for one more year.

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Height: 6-2. Weight: 250.
Projected 40 Time: 4.62.
Projected Round (2017): 4-6.

pittsburgh panthers

Godspeed James Conner! Given all the hardships you’ve conquered thus far, we have no doubt you’ll get drafted and make a fine career in the National Football League.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network. and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, currently contributes regularly to the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye publication. 

He also consistently appears on numerous radio and television talk shows all across the country. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and Sound Cloud

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