Like it or not, Najee Harris is trending toward bust status, and the demeaning Trent Richardson comparisons aren’t completely unwarranted for the Steelers running back.
Though Najee Harris has had his moments this season, his overall sample of play has been less than ideal. For most of the year, the former first-round pick has struggled to keep his wheels turning and explosive plays have been remarkably hard to come by.
Before the bye week, Harris was averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and was seemingly a non-factor on the team. Though he had a brief surge in recent weeks, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that we know what type of player Najee is going to be for the Steelers.
In addition to a low success rate, yards per carry, DVOA, and expected yards per carry, Harris’ vision has come into question many times this season. Fans have accused him of dancing around too much instead of simply seeing the hole, hitting it, and putting his head down to run someone over.
All of these traits have caused many fans to throw out the dreaded Trent Richardson comparison. But is that warranted?
Comparing Steelers RB to Trent Richardson isn’t way off base
As much as it pains me to say this, it’s not hard to understand why fans have given Najee the Trent Richardson label. Though Richardson was shorter and more compact, both came from a powerhouse program at Alabama and both were aided by excellent offensive line play in college.
The comparisons don’t end there. Each of these former Crimson Tide running backs not only looked the part, but they had elite college production prior to declaring for the NFL Draft. However, they also have many of the same question marks.
Prior to being traded in his second NFL season, Richardson showed questionable ball-carrier vision on film. His production as a rookie was good, thanks in large part to a heavy workload, but that certainly didn’t mean he was efficient.
Ironically, Harris and Richardson have very similar efficiency numbers over their first two seasons, according to advanced stats from Football Outsiders. While there is still hope for Najee to turn things around, I’d be lying if I said that this comparison wasn’t warranted.
What has me worried about Harris is that it’s clear to see that he just doesn’t have that extra gear that most great running backs have. While his career path could still turn out much better than Richardson’s, his ceiling might be capped at an Eddie Lacy-type back — a big, powerful guy who can tote the rock, but won’t be a dominant, every-down back the Steelers were hoping for.
Obviously, I hope I’m wrong here. It would be incredibly disappointing if Harris’s career doesn’t turn out any better than Trent Richardson’s. I expect him to be much better than this, but it’s hard to say that this comparison is way off base at this point in time.