It’s time for the Pittsburgh Steelers Sophomore Spotlight Series. During this series we’ll be taking a look at Pittsburgh’s second year players to determine their standing with the team, what their role might be in 2022-23, and how big of an impact they can have in year two.
Najee Harris – Running Back
2021-22 Season Review
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Najee Harris 24th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. The dots were connected between Harris and the Steelers almost from the jump during the draft process. Harris met all the needs of Head Coach Mike Tomlin by having legitimate workhorse-back capabilities. Najee lived up to the hype to the tune of 307 rushes for 1,200 yards and 74 receptions for 467 yards. Harris had 10 total touchdowns (seven rushing, three receiving). Those 381 touches not only led all rookies, but all players in the 2021-22 season. In 17 games Najee Harris played in 84% of the offensive snaps for Pittsburgh. He was sixth on the team in that category.
Harris showed everything Pittsburgh wanted from a talent, availability and productivity standpoint. However, he was lacking in efficiency. Harris rushed for less than four yards-per-carry and only had three 100-yard games despite eight games with 20 or more carries. Najee was 33rd and 35th in DYAR and DVOA respectively, and had just a 49% run success rate (34th).
The offensive line play is probably the biggest reason for this. With two starting rookies, a late off-season addition at at right guard, and a rotating cast of players at left guard, this group had it’s struggles last season. The only run blocking stat the line finished higher than 26th in via Football Outsiders was “Stuffed Percentage” which measures number of runs where the running back was tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. This statistic speaks more to Harris’s ability to break tackles however, as he was constantly met in the backfield and able to scrape positive yardage where it seemed impossible.
2022-23 Season Outlook
What can we expect from Najee Harris this season? For starters the offensive line should be in much better shape. Pittsburgh brought in James Daniels and Mason Cole to upgrade the center and right guard spots. Kevin Dotson will hopefully have a healthier and better season at left guard. And Dan Moore Jr. should have a more consistent second season.
Pittsburgh also hasn’t made any major additions to the running back room. Therefore Harris should have another season with a large workload. The flip side of that is there isn’t much historical precedent for a second-year bump without a larger amount of snaps. In the last three seasons running backs have only made a statistical jump in year two by earning a larger number of snaps and touches.
The offensive line should help Harris a lot. A new quarterback should also make the offense less predictable. These factors should help Najee Harris this season. Najee should also see an increase in goal line and red zone looks with the departure of Ben Roethlisberger. But however it happens, Harris needs to have a more efficient season in order for Pittsburgh to succeed.
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