James Conner is immense. He looks like a middle linebacker carrying the ball, and he hits like one too, initiating contact at the end of runs. He is primarily a downhill/ north/south runner, and although Conner can catch the ball a little out of the backfield, he needs to be moving forward at the catch point to be productive.
Because of his sheer size, Conner is an effective pass blocker. He has decent vision, usually picking the open hole to run through. His acceleration through the hole is deceptive, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call him explosive. But perhaps the most impressive facet of Conner’s game comes after contact. He is rarely taken down by the first tackler, blows through arm tackles, and keeps his legs churning until he’s down, gaining extra yards after contact. He’s even strong enough to carry defenders, making him an ideal short-yardage back. (He has occasional plays that are reminiscent of watching Rob Gronkowski stagger forward with an entire secondary on his back.)
Conner has a tendency to run upright, even though he gets compact before contact. This causes occasional ball security issues due to the ball being exposed when he isn’t anticipating being hit. Running to the outside is not in Conner’s bag of tricks. He lacks the speed to get the edge, and also the ability to change gears from east/west to up the field. I see him as strictly a no frills, between the tackles runner. This struggle affects his usage in the passing game as well, since he in ineffective catching the ball heading toward the sideline.
If you’re expecting James Conner to be a three down stud, you are going to be disappointed. But if you are looking for a sleeper, who, depending on landing spot, can be an early down pounder with red zone upside to be paired with a third down back. His 2014 tape (before cancer took a season from him,) illustrates the best he can be. Conner is definitely limited, but presents value in the right landing spot.