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Another Big Touchdown Year No Fantasy For James Conner

Cardinals running back scored 18 times last season

Running back James Conner runs upfield during the Cardinals' first practice of training camp on Wednesday.
Running back James Conner runs upfield during the Cardinals' first practice of training camp on Wednesday.

With that many touchdowns, yes, people are going to ask you about fantasy football.

"I redirect the conversation," Cardinals Pro Bowl running back James Conner said, as he begins training camp following an 18-touchdown season. "I don't live in a fantasy world. … This is real life."

If Conner is going to follow up his 2021 with another big TD – 15 rushing, three receiving, second-highest total in the league – season, those same topics are going to keep coming up. For Conner, not only does he think he can get back to 18 touchdowns, "I'm shooting for more."

"I just want to win ballgames," Conner said. "Do everything we can (offensively), but it's very realistic."

There is a reason the Cardinals re-signed Conner to a three-year contract with $13.5 million in guaranteed money. They believe the 27-year-old can repeat his initial season in the desert, a power runner with surprisingly soft receiving hands who helped the team grind out the short yardage that they had difficulty with the season before.

"He has a nose for the end zone," coach Kliff Kingsbury said, noting there was an "expectation" to approach another 15 or 18 touchdowns. "We struggled in goal-to-go situations so we have to be better in the passing game down there obviously but any time James touches the ball down there you felt good about him having the opportunity to get in."

Conner needs to be healthy to reach such lofty TD totals, of course. He noted he'd "try to be available for all 17" when it comes to games, after getting banged up by season's end. One of the lessons he has learned in his previous five seasons was that he shouldn't be regular-season ready the first day of training camp.

"It's a marathon," he said.

Kingsbury said the Cardinals will be smart with Conner with his practice reps and beyond. It's not just about Conner in the backfield; Kingsbury said he believes the team's offense was its best last season when there was a balance between Conner and the since-departed Chase Edmonds.

Whether the tag team partner is Eno Benjamin this season or Darrel Williams or perhaps someone else in the room, "hopefully we can find a similar rhythm this year," Kingsbury said.

Conner was hurting with a painful ribs injury when he played against the Rams in the playoffs. The Cardinals want to try and avoid a repeat.

He already believes he has found good if basic ways to preserve his body – nutrition, sleep, meditation – and insists he has a lot of productive years ahead of him.

"I don't want to talk about getting old," Conner said.

He had the second-most carries of his career last season (202) and 239 total touches. He didn't want to talk carries but instead touches for this season, although he declined to give a number per game.

"Foolish to do that," he said.

The only number he will speculate upon is touchdowns. And the Cardinals would love for Conner to make sure that is indeed real life and not fantasy.

Images from 2022 Cardinals Training Camp at State Farm Stadium