James Conner injury update: Steelers RB out for Week 14, ankle issue worse than originally thought

Le'Veon Bell's argument for getting paid looks more important now: the Steelers already ruled out running back James Conner for Week 14, Mike Tomlin announced to reporters on Tuesday.

Originally Conner's injury, suffered in the Steelers loss to the Chargers on Sunday night in Week 13, was reported as a contusion and not thought to be that serious. That was huge news for everyone -- the Steelers, fantasy owners, fans of James Conner, everyone. (For the fantasy breakdown of this, you should be watching Fantasy Football Today on CBS Sports HQ, live every day from 12-1 p.m. ET.)

Instead it turns out the ankle injury is actually a sprain, which is quite significant. 

As a result, NC State rookie running back Jaylen Samuels is expected to start at running back for the Steelers as they travel to Oakland on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox, stream on fuboTV, try for free). 

"I'm getting more comfortable as I'm getting more plays," Samuels said Monday, per ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

Samuels, who scored on a pass from Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday night, isn't necessarily a traditional feature back, and it makes sense that Tomlin told reporters he planned to use a running back by committee.

That committee will include veteran Stevan Ridley as well as Trey Edwards. But it wouldn't be shocking if Samuels ended up seeing the majority of the carries for the Steelers in their friendly matchup against the Raiders. (Oddly this is the second week in a row the Raiders have faced off against a backup running back, going against the Chiefs and Spencer Ware last week.) 

For the Steelers, this is a tough line to toe. They have offensive firepower outside of Conner, obviously. Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster give them ample weapons in the passing game if they want to try and score early by passing and then just grind out a win with the run game. 

But they need Conner back. He has been a big part of this team in 2018, helping to alleviate the loss of Bell, who sat out the entire season when he refused to sign the franchise tender the Steelers placed on him. 

They are in the playoff hunt, not only trying to secure a division title, but also attempting to try and lock down a bye in the first round, something that became infinitely more difficult with Sunday's loss. 

At the same time, the Steelers can't rush Conner back just for playoff seeding. They're going to need a strong running game in January if the make the playoffs, and having Conner back is key for the postseason. (On the other hand, securing a bye would give everyone two weeks of rest -- again, it's a fine line they're walking.) 

Expect them to take the prudent route here and rest Conner as needed while trying to knock out wins. A 2-2 record down the stretch would almost assure the Steelers of a playoff bid at this point in time, and it would be an outright lie to suggest that this week's game at Oakland is more or as important than the following week's contest against the Patriots in Pittsburgh.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories