James Conner has missed the last two games with his ankle injury, believed to be of the high-sprain variety. That’s typically a 3-4 weeks issue at best for most players. Conner returned to the practice field on Wednesday, but teammates said he did next to nothing in the session. Afterward, Conner admitted that he’s “still not ready” as it stands now but hopes to see where things are at later in the week. Longtime beat writer Ed Bouchette doesn’t expect Conner to be out there Sunday against the Saints. If allowed, the Steelers should just let Conner get healthy in time for a potential playoff run.

In Conner’s absence, the Steelers have stumbled across yet another producer at the running back position. Rookie Jaylen Samuels has been phenomenal as the lead back, playing 71% of the snaps and turning 39 touches into 264 scoreless yards while averaging 5.67 yards per carry. Samuels is the overall RB11 the last two weeks even without any touchdowns. Stevan Ridley has eight carries for 20 yards and a short score with a zero in the passing game. Samuels will again be a back-end RB1 play this week at the Superdome against the Saints in a game with a 53.5-point total.

In other premier running back injury news, Todd Gurley is expected to play Week 16 against the Cardinals after hurting his knee in the Week 15 loss to the Eagles. Gurley has been diagnosed with inflammation in the knee, and the Rams signed C.J. Anderson this week as insurance. Gurley didn’t practice on Wednesday, but coach Sean McVay seems confident his best player will be out there for a dream spot against the Cardinals. If not, Anderson, Justin Davis, and John Kelly are the Rams’ healthy backs. Los Angeles badly needs Jared Goff to find himself this week in the desert.

Leonard Fournette barely played in the second half of last week’s eventual loss to the Redskins, and it was announced afterward that Fournette was dealing with a bit of a foot issue that was expected to limit him in practice this week. Instead, Fournette practiced in full on Wednesday and is one track to suit up against the Dolphins. It’s another great on-paper spot for Fournette in a game that should be somewhat close, but the coaching staff seems to want to see more of youngster David Williams. Fournette is still a must-start in season-long leagues and a fine tournament play in daily formats. Anytime he’s healthy, Fournette is a threat for 25-plus touches and multiple touchdowns.

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Panthers Shutting Down Cam Newton

Cam Newton hasn’t looked healthy for the better part of a month now; his surgically-repaired right (throwing) shoulder has been giving him issues. The Panthers, losers of six straight and now out of the playoff hunt, have made the decision to shut Newton down for the final two weeks of the season. Taylor Heinicke will get the starts under center this week at home against the Falcons and then again on the road in New Orleans for Week 17. Heinicke is a small-ish 6’1/210 virtual unknown UDFA out of Old Dominion in 2015. He’s spent time with OC Norv Turner in Minnesota and now Carolina, so he knows the offense. Heinicke ran a 4.60/4.63 forty coming out college with an impressive 10-foot-3 broad jump. He’s a good athlete at the position and is in play for DFS this week at the bare minimum in a plus spot at home. As for Cam, the Panthers for now don’t plan for him to have surgery.

Quick Slants

Matt Breida re-injured his ankle last week and was limited in Wednesday’s practice ahead of a tough Week 16 draw against the Bears. … Doug Baldwin (hip) did not practice Wednesday; it was more than likely a veteran’s day off after his two-TD game in San Francisco. … Ted Ginn (knee) was designated to return from I.R., opening his 21-day window to be added to the 53-man roster. … Cardinals WRs Trent Sherfield (ankle) and Chad Williams (hamstring) were limited on Wednesday. … Jamaal Williams was limited with a toe issue on Wednesday; he’s expected to be the Packers’ feature back this week against the Jets with Aaron Jones (knee) out. … Austin Ekeler (neck, concussion) remained sidelined at practice. … Lamar Miller (ankle) and Keke Coutee (hamstring) were both limited on Wednesday. … Spencer Ware (hamstring) returned to a limited practice Wednesday after sitting out the Week 15 loss to the Chargers. … Rashaad Penny (knee) is up in the air for Week 16 after missing last week against the 49ers. … Marcus Mariota (foot) was upgraded to a full practice for the Titans, while Tajae Sharpe (ankle) remained sidelined. … Cole Beasley (foot) was limited on Wednesday after appearing to aggravate the issue in Week 15. … Bruce Ellington (hamstring) was back at practice, while Kenny Golladay now has a chest issue; both players were limited Wednesday. … Austin Hooper (knee, ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Neither did Julio Jones, who has a hip injury. Coach Dan Quinn said Friday would be the day to know about Jones’ status. … Eric Ebron (quad) and T.Y. Hilton (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Both routinely take Wednesdays off, and Hilton didn’t even practice last week before playing against the Cowboys. … Danny Amendola (knee) was sidelined Wednesday. … LeSean McCoy (hamstring) and Chris Ivory (shoulder) both returned to limited practices Wednesday. … Zach Ertz (ankle) was limited as well. … Quincy Enunwa (ankle) remains out for the Jets. … Joe Mixon was limited with a wrist issue Wednesday, while Tyler Boyd (knee) didn’t participate. Boyd is expected to miss Week 16. … Keenan Allen (hip) was back at practice for the Bolts. … Aaron Rodgers (groin) said he’s playing Week 16. … The Raiders signed Nathan Peterman to their practice squad. … DeSean Jackson (thumb) was back at practice after missing the previous three games. Chris Godwin has been a bust the last two weeks. … Randall Cobb is still in the concussion protocol. … Jordan Reed (foot) is still out for the Redskins. … Sammy Watkins (foot) remains DNP for the Chiefs. … Graham Gano (knee) was placed on I.R. … Odell Beckham (quad) again didn’t practice for the Giants. … The Lions sent Kerryon Johnson (knee) to injured reserve. … Coach Dan Quinn confirmed Devonta Freeman (groin, I.R.) will not return.

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