Steelers RB Najee Harris makes Pro Football Focus All-Rookie Team

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22). Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22). Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

Najee Harris had a hefty workload as a rookie. Here’s why the Steelers running back was recently named to Pro Football Focus’s All-Rookie Team in 2021. 

When it comes to workload, there aren’t many running backs in the NFL who can carry the rock as much as Najee Harris and still hold up. Despite his significant usage as a rookie in 2021, Harris was able to have some of the best games of his season late in the year.

Against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17, Harris recorded 28 carries for 188 yards and a touchdown in the 26-14 win, via Pro Football Reference. His 6.7 yards per carry in this contest marked a career-high, and he finished with 3 performances of 90+ rushing yards over the final five games of the regular season.

When it came time for Pro Football Focus to put together their annual All-Rookie Team, Najee Harris made the cut. Here’s what PFF’s Ben Linsey had to say about Harris making the list as the top rookie running back this year:

"RB NAJEE HARRIS, PITTSBURGH STEELERSNo running back was asked to do more for their offense than Harris was this season. His 978 offensive snaps were 170 more than any other player at the position, and his 381 total touches also led all running backs.Volume should factor into the equation when discussing whether a player like Javonte Williams, who had an extremely impressive season in his own right, had a “better season” than Harris. PFF’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric does incorporate volume, and it identified Harris as the second-most valuable running back in the NFL behind only Jonathan Taylor over the regular season.Harris earning an above-average PFF grade at the running back position on a true every-down role in an offense that offered him as little support as Pittsburgh’s did is commendable."

Obviously, Harris wasn’t without his faults as a rookie. He occasionally would miss a big hole or fail to pick up a blitzing linebacker in pass protection. However, the overall sample this year was very good — especially considering the state of Pittsburgh’s offensive line.

How good could Harris be for the Steelers?

Anytime a team is willing to spend a first-round pick on a running back in today’s NFL, you expect that player to hardly ever leave the field. This is exactly what we saw from Harris in 2021, as no running back in the league saw more snaps or touches.

Unfortunately, this could be a recipe that proves to wear him down faster than most other running backs in the league. We have seen what extreme usage has done to players in the past, and Harris isn’t guaranteed to be an exception.

While an efficient, lengthy career might not be sustainable at the rate he’s touching the football (which is one of the main reasons why I opposed this selection in the first round), Harris could prove to be a Le’Veon Bell-level player for the next 4-5 years. Anything they can get out of him after that should be considered a bonus.

Harris has exceptional size and strength at the point of contact. He can shed tacklers with ease and has soft hands out of the backfield. Something that might always be his Achilles heel, however, is his lack of breakaway speed — something Bell was lacking for the Steelers as well.

While this doesn’t mean that Harris doesn’t have the upside to be a multi-time All-Pro player, it does cap his big-play ability that other elite running backs like Jonathan Taylor, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, and Nick Chubb all possess.

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Though I still can’t justify ever taking a running back in the first round when there are so many more important positions on the football field (each with a much longer shelf-life), Najee Harris is turning out to be a very solid player for the Steelers and was deserving of making PFF’s All-Rookie Team. The best is yet to come.