Some are calling for the Steelers to bench Najee Harris in favor of Jaylen Warren
While it is understandable that fans are frustrated with how the Steelers have run the ball I can’t agree with the latest idea some fans like to bring up. People are starting to call for Jaylen Warren to be named the starting running back and to use Najee Harris as a complimentary piece. There are multiple reasons why I think that idea is a very bad one.
It is worth mentioning that the Steelers are 27th in the league in rushing yards per game. However, it is not as if the running game is the worst part of this offense. You may disagree but considering that the Steelers are 9th in the league at pass attempts per game and 23 in the league in passing yards per game, I’d hazard to say that the passing game is far more inefficient.
You see the Steelers are only 23rd in the league in rushing attempts per game, and Kenny Pickett scrambling downfield ends up going down as a rush attempt. So the Steelers really do have more problems passing the ball than running it and that’s in large part due to Harris. However, that’s not the main thing.
Jaylen Warren’s stats are incredibly skewed
Warren put together a somewhat decent performance against the Eagles tallying 75 yards on a total of 9 touches. Yet, everyone is forgetting that the majority of Warren’s production has been in garbage time all year. When the Steelers are out of the game and defenses are playing the deep ball to protect the lead Warren shines. There are stats that show this too.
Jaylen Warren is only seeing a stacked front(8 or more defenders in the box) on 6.9% of his carries. Najee Harris is seeing a stacked front on 13% of his carries. If you look at the percentage of carries the running backs face 7 or more players in the box, Warren gets that on 17.2% of his carries whereas Harris sees it on 25.9% of his carries. Warren gets a light front on 75.9% of his carries and Harris only gets to rush against a light front 61.1% of the time.
In other words, teams are stacking the box and keeping more defenders near the line of scrimmage in the earlier parts of the game. Harris is running into a defense that is actively trying to defend the run whereas Warren is getting easy yardage at the end of the game when it doesn’t matter.
Harris is the more talented back
While Warren has done some good work with his touches this year, there is nothing in his film that makes me think he has a higher ceiling than Harris. Neither have breakaway speed, but Harris is still much better at breaking tackles and making guys miss in the open field.
I give Warren credit for hitting every hole as hard as he can and taking what defenses give him. However, while Warren is just taking what he can get, he is not playing with the expectation to take over a football game, Harris is.
Najee Harris is going to continue to try and take more than he can get most of the time. It’s why the Steelers spent a 1st round pick on him a year ago. While Harris himself has some growing to do, he was drafted to be a possible focal point in the offense. If that is the case he needs to keep trying to make big plays because eventually, they are going to start happening. When that happens everyone is going to forget the idea that he should be benched for Jaylen Warren.