The Arizona Cardinals made yet another free agency splash this week, signing former Pro Bowl running back James Conner to a one-year deal. While he has been banged up in recent years, Conner is still just 25 years old and coming off his second most prolific season as a pro.
Barring any unexpected ill effects stemming from Conner’s surgically repaired toe, the added juice in the backfield could very well take an already vaunted Cardinals offense to new heights this season — a concept that his new teammates are clearly excited about.
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Cardinals Stars Welcome Conner to Arizona
Following Conner’s official signing on Tuesday, a slew of Cardinals players took to social media to welcome their new battering ram running back into the fold. Pro Bowl quarterback Kyler Murray, three-time NFL DPOY J.J. Watt and even new backfield mate Chase Edmonds — who will undoubtedly see his workload take a hit due to Conner’s addition — greeted the former Pittsburgh Steelers running back with open arms.
Let’s get it!@JamesConner_
— Kyler Murray (@K1) April 13, 2021
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) April 13, 2021
Let’s ride bro! https://t.co/iw7wbtgvIP
— Chase Edmonds (@ChaseEdmonds22) April 13, 2021
What Conner’s Signing Means for Edmonds
Some may expect Edmonds to feel a certain type of way about Conner’s signing, especially considering the organization’s eagerness to convince the world that Edmonds is indeed the team’s lead back. With that said, Conner’s presence likely allows the Cardinals to expand upon Edmonds’ role far greater than they would have been capable of previously.
Kenyan Drake led the team in rushing yards for a second consecutive season in 2020. However, the now-Raiders running back only played 7.95% more offensive snaps than Edmonds. Now, part of that is due to injuries — Drake missed one game with an ankle injury, which slightly skewed the snap totals. Yet, the more likely explanation for the closeness in usage is Edmonds’ versatility.
True, the fourth-year pro has yet to prove his worth as an every-down back in this league. What he has proven, however, is his placement amongst the NFL’s upper echelon receiving backs.
Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald ranked second on the team in receptions this past season with 54. Edmonds closely followed, hauling in 53 catches — third most amongst all Cardinals players. In fact, Edmonds’ catch total was good enough for seventh-most among all NFL running backs. Yet, what makes Edmonds so special is he’s far from your typical outlet option. Edmonds led all NFL running backs with 90 snaps from the slot last season, per Fantasy Alarm’s Andrew Cooper. With Fitzgerald’s playing future in doubt, don’t be surprised to see Edmond’s role in the slot further expand in 2021.
That’s not to say Edmonds won’t see an uptick in usage out of the backfield. By all indications, the team is ready and willing to feature the Fordham product in their offense. However, with Conner now in Arizona, the Cards will be able to expand on Edmond’s tantalizing skillset, meaning an Alvin Kamara-esque role from the 25-year-old is not out of the question — featured, but not in your typical “ground and pound” type of way. Expect the Cards to leave that role for 6-foot-1-inch, 233-pound Conner, whose nine red zone rushing touchdowns in 2018 tied for most in the league.