Najee Harris has been quite the letdown so far this season, but efficiency stats show that the Pittsburgh Steelers running back just might not be very good.
A running back is only going to look as good as the offensive line and coordinator allow him to be. I’ve been banging this drum for years. It’s for this exact reason that I’ve been opposed to taking running backs in the first round. Yet, despite what all analytics show us, the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to be stuck in the past.
In April of 2021, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert ran to the podium to hand in their card with the 24th overall pick. With it, selected Alabama running back, Najee Harris. While most of Steelers Nation erupted with praise and applause, I was shaking my head at this selection. So far, his career has turned out almost exactly how I thought it would.
Obviously, we knew the Steelers still needed help on the offensive line, so it wasn’t surprising to see Harris struggle at times as a rookie in 2021. Though fans try time and again to use his raw numbers to argue why he was great as a rookie (something I wouldn’t advise doing), they failed to notice just how truly inefficient he was with his league-leading 381 touches last year.
Najee Harris has been very inefficient for Steelers
Historically, running backs typically make their biggest jump in year two. But Harris has continued to trend in the wrong direction. Here’s a look at his efficiency stats from his rookie season and his first five games of 2022, according to advanced stats from Football Outsiders and PlayerProfiler.
This is the last thing fans were hoping to see in year two. The struggles are noticeable on film, so it’s not surprising to see him ranked so low in these efficiency categories. However, many fans are still caught making excuses for Harris.
Last year, it was the offensive line’s fault that he wasn’t efficient. This year, it’s because Harris clearly still has a foot issue that is hampering him. Is there always going to be an excuse?
I don’t expect Najee Harris to trend on a downward spiral for the rest of his career. He can bring these efficiency numbers up over the next few seasons if given the right conditions. However, I would wager that he’s never going to border on ‘elite’ in terms of his efficiency.
I’ll echo some of the words I said both prior to the draft and after the Steelers elected to take Najee in the first round: Harris was an old running back prospect with a lot of tread already off the tires. He doesn’t have a second gear or elite receiving ability, and he was aided by a phenomenal Alabama offensive line.
All these pre-draft thoughts about him appear to be a valid assessment to this point. Furthermore, the fact that an undrafted rookie RB from the Big 12 in Jaylen Warren can come in and look better in nearly every area — given similar circumstances and the same offensive line — shows why taking Harris was such a bad pick in the first place.
I know all of this sounds a little harsh, but we need to stop making excuses for Najee Harris. I think Steelers Nation overrated him as a prospect, and until he starts showing something special, there’s no reason to believe that he’s ever going to move the needle one way or the other on Pittsburgh’s offense.