5 reasons Najee Harris wasn’t a good value for the Steelers

Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris (Photo by Sylvia Allen/Getty Images) /

Steelers Harris didn’t have an elite rookie year

If you were to just look at Harris’s raw stats, one would come away with the idea that the Steelers got an effective rookie and a nearly elite performer from their first-round pick 1200 rushing yards and 1667 total yards along with 10 scores, on paper, is a great year. In fact, they even broke the rookie record previously held by Franco Harris. Just by those numbers alone, Harris had a great year.

When actually digging into the numbers though, these stats point more to an average season than a good one. First off, despite posting decent stats as a whole, the Steelers’ rushing offense was 28th or 29th in the league in most categories. Harris didn’t transform this unit; he just gave the team a workhorse that wouldn’t miss time and could carry a full load.

In terms of Harris breaking the rookie rushing record, while he did in fact beat the 1055 yards that Franco had as a rookie, Harris had to do that with three additional games. If you extrapolated his average rushing yards a game (70.59 rushing yards per game) down to just 14 games, Harris only runs for 988. Naturally, that isn’t how records work in the NFL, but for those parading that he beat Franco’s record, it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

In fact, the only reason that Harris had as successful of a season as he had was because of volume. He touched the ball 381 total times. While that 1667 total yards number looks good, it only averages down to 4.4 total yards per touch. For a reference, James Conner, had he received 381 touches last season with the Steelers, would have had 1753 total yards at his rate.

This isn’t to say that Harris is a bad back. He isn’t, but he didn’t have this elite, game-changing rookie season that you would expect from a first-round running back. His record-breaking ability is relatively muted, and his statistical success is more due to volume than anything else. Don’t be fooled, his first-year stats point much more to an average campaign than an elite one.