We're drafting Conner as a No. 2 running back in Round 4 or 5 of most Fantasy leagues. At 28, Conner is approaching old for a running back and he's missed at least three games in four of the past five seasons. All that makes it pretty shocking that the Cardinals did nothing to shore up their running back room behind him, leaving Keaontay Ingram and Corey Clement as his top competition. That should signal that Conner will be a workhorse back for as long as he holds up. It's a different coaching staff, but last year that looked like a six-week stretch where Conner played almost 90% of the snaps, produced more than 100 yards per game and outscored everyone but Josh Jacobs on a per-game basis.
You’re certainly not drafting Conner for efficiency. He was just OK in that department last year, turned 28 in May, and will be playing on what figures to be a subpar Cardinals offense.
But you are drafting Conner for volume. He averaged 15.2 carries and 4.8 targets in 11 healthy games last year and parlayed that into top-10 per-game fantasy production.
He doesn’t sit nearly that high in our 2023 RB Rankings. But he does rank significantly higher than he figures to go in your fantasy draft.
Highlight Conner as a value target.
What We Learned Last YearConner dealt with multiple injuries last year. He was knocked out of Week 2 with a left ankle injury, suffered a rib injury in Week 5 that cost him the next three games, and missed the season finale after hurting his shin in Week 17.Conner played 55+% of Arizona’s offensive snaps in 11 games last year. His averages in those games:15.2 carries63.8 rushing yards0.64 rushing TDs4.8 targets (12.2% share)3.9 catches24.2 receiving yards0.09 receiving TDsConner ranked eighth among RBs in expected PPR points per game across those 11 games; 13th in expected non-PPR points.He ranked seventh in actual PPR points per game and eighth in non-PPR.He finished as a top-24 PPR RB in nine of those 11 games, including five top-12 finishes.Conner was reasonably effective as a runner. Among 48 RBs with 90+ carries last year, he ranked:30th in Pro Football Focus rushing grade22nd in PFF’s Elusive Rating29th in NFL Next Gen Stats’ Rush Yards Over Expected Per AttemptHe fared worse in receiving metrics. Among 43 RBs with 30+ targets, Conner ranked:37th in PFF receiving grade30th in yards per route run
What to Expect in 2023Conner returns to Arizona for the second season of his three-year deal. His $8.45 million in total cash in 2023 is 11th most among RBs.The Cardinals return Keaontay Ingram and Corey Clement from last year’s backfield. They combined for 42 carries and 12 targets last year. Eno Benjamin, who ranked second on last year’s squad with 70 carries, is gone.Conner again looks primed to operate as Arizona’s clear lead back.He’ll play under a new coaching staff this season after HC Kliff Kingsbury was fired. The Cardinals hired former Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon as HC and named Drew Petzing OC. The 35-year-old Petzing spent the past 9 seasons working under Kevin Stefanski in Minnesota and then Cleveland but has no experience calling plays at any level.QB Kyler Murray is working his way back from December’s torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee. He’s unlikely to be ready for the start of the season and could miss the first couple of months. QB Colt McCoy is the favorite to start for Arizona until Murray is ready.This Cardinals team is expected to be bad. Their 4.5 win total at most sportsbooks is lowest in the league. That’s not good news for Conner’s rushing volume or TD upside. But his role in the passing game makes him relatively game-script-proof.Conner turned 28 in May. According to our aging curve research, the average RB produces at 80% of his peak value at age 28.
Conner is atop the depth chart in Arizona, though he's entering his seventh NFL season having yet to appear in 100% of his team's games in a single season. He's missed at least two games every season, which includes four in 2022. Durability aside, Conner has been great. He finished 2022 with eight consecutive top-20 fantasy weeks (most of which came with Kyler Murray sidelined) and he's been top 10 in fantasy PPG each of the past two seasons. Conner's durability woes knock him down a few pegs, but the 28-year-old played 85% of the snaps down the stretch last season and has little competition for the feature back role in 2023. Consider him a back-end RB2.