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Najee Harris

Steelers Hit A Home Run With Najee Harris

  • Jack McKessy
  • January 7, 2022
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As Najee Harris’ rookie season comes to a close, the Pittsburgh Steelers have to be really happy about how valuable their 2021 first-rounder has been to their team. And as Ben Roethlisberger makes what is likely his final NFL start on Sunday, having Harris in their backfield gives the Steelers plenty of reason to be excited about their future as they enter a post-Roethlisberger era. Through 17 weeks, the Steelers are the team with the third-highest pass play percentage in the NFL. What sets them apart from every other pass-heavy team is that they have a monster running threat as well. Harris has been a real workhorse for the Steelers. While the Steelers do pass on more than 63% of their plays, Harris is still the running back with the second-most rushing attempts in the NFL. He’s found some real success in his rookie year being that workhorse back for Pittsburgh, too. As such, the Steelers are the only team to pass on more than 60% of their plays and still have a 1,000-yard rusher this season. While Harris hasn’t been asked to catch the ball nearly as much as he’s been asked to run with it this season, we can’t discount his abilities and statistics as a pass-catcher. In addition to his 1,172 yards on his 296 rushing attempts, Harris has also recorded 70 catches for 440 yards. That has made the Steelers rookie the NFL leader in touches and fourth on the leaderboard in all-purpose yards, sandwiched between noted hybrid players Deebo Samuel and Cordarrelle Patterson. What has made the Alabama product such an effective and successful player in year one is his physicality paired with an ability to avoid injury. Having both traits is impressive, especially for a rookie running back in a workhorse role. It can be easy for rookies to get off to hot starts at any position, only to be slowed down when they get banged up. At a position like running back that is so inherently physical, that problem can be even more prevalent, especially as the number of carries increases. Such has not been the case with Harris, who has emphasized his focus on taking care of his body. On the physical side of things, no game has better emphasized what Harris can bring to the table than the career game he had against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. He was absolutely dominant, setting career highs in carries (28), rushing yards (188), and yards per attempt (6.71). According to Next Gen Stats, of his 188 rushing yards, 181 of them came after contact. That’s the third-most yards after contact in a game since Next Gen Stats began tracking it in 2016. Some of those yards after contact were after a few “routine” broken tackles like on his touchdown run. A few more yards came from Harris stiff-arming defenders into oblivion. Steelers fans have a lot of reason to be excited about the future of their offense. With one game to play, Harris is just one yard shy of tying the Steelers’ rookie all-purpose yards record and he’s fourth in the NFL in both rushing and all-purpose yards. His physical talent and production as a workhorse back both on the ground and as a receiver suggest that this season is but a taste of what’s to come for the young star. Getting a dynamic running back like Harris was an important move for Pittsburgh, both now and as they look ahead. The Steelers’ solution at quarterback as they move into 2022 is still up in the air, but they certainly shouldn’t have to worry about their run game for at least another four years. Harris is a bonafide stud and he is the perfect offensive weapon for the Steelers to build around as they move into a new era.

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Jack McKessy