We know that Najee Harris can carry the load, but is the Pittsburgh Steelers running back in a position to win the NFL rushing title in 2022?
For the first time since Le’Veon Bell’s final year seeing the field r Pittsburgh in 2017, the Steelers found a running back who can carry the load as well as just about anyone in the league. After taking former Alabama running back, Najee Harris, with the 24th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, we expected nothing less.
Harris weighed in at his Pro Day at 6’1 3/8” and 232 pounds; however, he admitted to his playing weight being even higher (roughly in the 240 range). Turn on any random game of Najee and you will see that he’s got ‘bell-cow’ written all over him.
Despite being an older rookie with ample college experience, Harris still isn’t a finished product. His vision came into question multiple times last season as he failed to hit some big holes. Harris also proved that he still has a long way to go in both the receiving game (7 drops and just 5.0 yards per target) and as a pass protector.
Regardless, that doesn’t change the fact that he should once again be among the league leaders in touches in 2022. During his rookie season in 2021, Harris touched the ball 381 times, via Pro Football Reference — 307 of which were carries out of the backfield. Harris was second in carries only to the remarkable Jonathan Taylor (who toted the rock 332 times last year).
How can Steelers RB earn the rushing title in 2022?
Najee Harris isn’t the favorite to win the NFL’s rushing title this season — nor should he be. While he gets plenty of carries to give himself a shot, there is a big factor that could keep him short of this mark: his below-average rushing efficiency.
This clearly isn’t just on Najee himself. Though he missed some big opportunities last year from time to time, he outplayed the unspectacular offensive line in front of him.
Put simply, in order for Harris to have a shot at the rushing title this year, it’s going to take a massive overall leap from the Steelers offensive line. The unit we saw in 2021 wasn’t good enough to warrant an NFL rushing leader — no matter who would have been back there.
This group doesn’t have to be perfect, but they do have to play with much more consistency. Najee was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage far too often last season. If they can clean up the run-blocking a bit in 2021, Najee could have a chance.
The other big factor here is health. There aren’t many running backs who are awarded as many carries as Najee received as a rookie last season, and that number seems to keep going down. Teams are either trying to deploy running backs by committee or preserve their best runners.
Ezekiel Elliot, for example, received just 237 carries last year — 70 fewer than Harris in the same amount of games played. Likewise, top-10 rushers from a season ago like Dalvin Cook, Austin Ekeler, Damien Harris, and Nick Chubb each had fewer than 260 rushes in 2021.
If Najee Harris stays healthy for all 17 games, he could have a shot at the rushing title this year, but he will need to be much more efficient on the ground. His biggest competitors for the title are likely to be Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry. Harris finished 4th in the NFL in rushing last season.