The Pittsburgh Steelers found a bell-cow running back in Najee Harris. Here’s what his numbers are expected to look like in his rookie season.
The Najee Harris hype train is real, and most fans who have been following along have already jump aboard. After the Pittsburgh Steelers were statistically the worst team in the NFL at running the football in 2020, they will look to make major strides in that department this year with a new face in the backfield.
Not everything has gone perfectly for Harris this summer. He struggled with drops during Steelers training camp, and he hasn’t found a lot of room on the ground so far in the preseason. Through three exhibition games, Harris has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and hasn’t punched the ball in for a score. Against a susceptible Lions defense with Pittsburgh’s starting offensive line intact, Harris managed just 2.5 yards per carry on 4 attempts, according to ESPN.
As a whole, this is a pretty small sample size, and there has been plenty to get excited about prior to sitting out in the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers. While he wasn’t productive on the ground during exhibition action, Harris has made his presence felt through the air – catching 4 passes for 65 yards vs the Lions (16.2 yards per reception). This is an area Le’Veon Bell was so incredible in.
Recently, Pro Football Focus took the liberty of predicting the top rookie rushing performances in 2021. They have Najee Harris topping all running backs with 1,033 yards on the ground.
This might even be a conservative estimate, considering the NFL has moved to a new 17-game schedule. However, assuming Harris stays healthy, accomplishing this prediction is well within reach.
Will Steelers rookie RB surpass expectations in year one?
If Harris were able to stay healthy for all 17 games, this means that he would need a mere 60.7 rushing yards per contest in order for this prediction to come to fruition. While this might seem remarkably easy on the surface, it’s important to remember that Pittsburgh was dead last with just 82.5 rushing yards per game as a team last year, according to Team Rankings.
The good news is that Harris isn’t the only new player on Pittsburgh’s offense this season. Though there are now four new faces on the starting offensive line, the team traded the experience for youth and athleticism – something that fans are hopeful will be beneficial in the run game. In addition, the Steelers have a new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada and a new offensive line coach in Adrian Klemm.
All these factors considered, it’s reasonable to believe that Najee Harris will not only top 1,000 rushing yards to lead all rookie running backs, but could prove to produce well beyond this estimate if things go according to plan. Once the offensive line figures things out, Harris is plenty talented to pound his way to 1,100-1,200 yards as a rookie.
In addition, he could be one of the most valuable running backs in the league through the air. This is an area he made major strides in during his time at Alabama. His do-it-all ability could make him one of the best running backs in the NFL early in his career.
For the running game to have success in 2021, we are banking on the offensive line gelling and Najee Harris staying healthy. If both of those things can happen, the Steelers star rookie could be in for a monster year statistically.