Najee Harris could break Steelers rookie rushing records held by Franco Harris
By Tommy Jaggi
The Steelers may have a special running back on their hands. Here’s why Najee Harris could break the rookie rushing records of an all-time great.
When the 24th pick rolled around in the 2021 NFL Draft, I was really wanting the Steelers to beef up the offensive line. Talented prospects like Alabama’s Landon Dickerson and Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins were ripe for the picking, but Pittsburgh virtually ran to the podium to turn in their card for running back, Najee Harris.
While I do have complaints about taking a running back this high due to the value of the position, I have little doubt that Harris will be a success in the NFL. At over 6’1” and 232 pounds, there aren’t a lot of running backs that are built quite like Harris, and Alabama runners have had a terrific track record for the most part, as a player like Derrick Henry and Josh Jacobs are among the league’s best running backs at the moment.
There’s no question that Najee Harris will be a drastic improvement over James Conner and the group of lackluster running backs the Steelers had in 2020, but could he be even more than that? There is plenty of reason to believe that the well-rounded rookie could even break Franco Harris’ rookie rushing records in 2021.
Why Najee could break Steelers rookie rushing records
All the way back in 1972, Franco Harris took the NFL stage by storm. As a 22-year-old rookie, Harris managed 1,055 rushing yards to go with an impressive 10 rushing touchdowns.
It’s been nearly 50 years now, and no other Steelers rookie running back has really come close to topping this. Le’Veon Bell would have had a chance to top these numbers but played just 13 games as a rookie. Now, Najee Harris will have an excellent chance to make history.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line wasn’t exactly spectacular in 2020. We all know this. However, Harris will be aided by Matt Canada’s new-look offense. In addition, it’s possible that the run blocking could improve this year with players like Kevin Dotson and Zach Banner in the starting lineup full-time.
Additionally, Harris gets the advantage of being the first Steelers starting running back to play under the 17-game schedule. In some ways, this isn’t even fair to cross-compare to Franco statistically. However, there’s a chance he may not even need this extra game – assuming he stays healthy all season. If you do the math, Harris needs just over 62 rushing yards per game over a 17-game schedule to surpass Franco’s rookie rushing record. This number climbs up to just 66 yards per game if we are comparing it to a level 16-game schedule.
As long as Harris stays healthy, this rushing record is easily obtainable. Surpassing Franco Harris’ 10 rushing scores is perhaps a more daunting task. Still, that would require Najee to score over 1.7 times per game, and this is not out of the realm of possibility.
As far as rookie receiving records go for running backs, I expect Harris to run away with this. You might be shocked to learn that Jaylen Samuels actually holds the record for the most receiving touchdowns as a rookie with just 3. Meanwhile, Le’Veon Bell holds the receiving yards record for Steelers rookie backs with only 399. This means that Harris would be required to record just 23.5 receiving yards per game over the course of the season to hold this record.
We may not know exactly what the offensive line is going to look like in 2021, but it stands to reason that Najee Harris will have a very good chance to top these Steelers rookie rushing records. If he can stay healthy throughout the season, these are records I expect him to break.