Steelers fans must come back down to earth on Najee Harris

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

Najee Harris was solid as a rookie, but Pittsburgh Steelers fans have already hoisted him on a pedestal where he doesn’t belong.

It didn’t take long at all for Steelers fans to jump aboard the Najee Harris hype wagon. While there is strong evidence to suggest that teams shouldn’t spend first-round draft capital on running backs in today’s NFL, Pittsburgh’s brass under the direction of Kevin Colbert had no regard for modern analytics.

I was part of the minority that opposed the Harris pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. After his rookie seasons, my thoughts have not changed. In fact, Harris performed pretty much how I expected him to.

Sadly, a Pro Bowl status and the popularity of fantasy football have blinded many Steelers fans into thinking that Harris was one of the best running backs in the league as a rookie last year. They point to the fact that he managed 1,200 rushing yards and 1,667 yards from scrimmage, via Pro Football Reference.

What they fail to neglect is just how inefficient Najee was with his touches. I’ll be the first to admit that being able to tote the pigskin 381 times in a season is an accomplishment in itself. But leading the league in touches isn’t necessarily a good thing — especially when you’re not efficient.

Using advanced stats from Football Outsiders and PlayerProfiler, here’s a look at just how inefficient Najee Harris was for the Steelers last season:

Without hesitation, fans will immediately point to the fact that Pittsburgh had a bad offensive line last year… and this is true. But to that point, I once again must ask: why value running backs so high if they are a product of their offensive line anyway?

Steelers fans are overrating Najee Harris

Recently, I asked fans on Twitter to rank their top five Steelers players heading into the 2022 season. This tweet generated over 130 replies, but I was appalled to see how many people believe that Najee Harris is already the second-best player on the team — ahead of Cameron Heyward.

I like most of Najee’s traits. He has prototype size and bulk for the running back position, he’s nimble for how big he is and is as physical as they come. However, he’s not a perfect product.

Harris doesn’t have breakaway speed — something that is going to limit him from being a Jonathan Taylor, Derrick Henry, or Nick Chubb-type player in the NFL. This is a big factor. He also wasn’t efficient in the passing game last season as he averaged just 5.0 yards per target and dropped a whopping 7 balls.

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Obviously, there is potential for Najee to climb higher in the running back rankings, but he’s only going to go as far as his offensive line will allow him. At the end of the day, it all comes down to efficiency, and the Steelers second-year running back is below-average in nearly every efficiency metric. Until he can get these up to the elite level, fans really need to come back down to earth on Najee Harris.