Are we ready to admit Najee Harris was a bad pick for Steelers?

Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up prior to the game against the New Orleans Saints at Acrisure Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up prior to the game against the New Orleans Saints at Acrisure Stadium on November 13, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

After two very average seasons in the league, are we ready to admit that the Steelers made a mistake with Harris?

The Steelers entered the 2021 offseason with a clear mission: the run game needed to improve. What did they do to fix that? Add a third and fourth-round pick to the offensive line and invested in Najee Harris in the first round. They thought that was enough, as they entered that season expecting a top running back to persevere over a below-average line.

That hasn’t been the case so far, as Harris has admittedly been a workhorse, but an inefficient one. The Steelers clearly wanted to have an established ground game heading into the post-Ben Roethlisberger years, but the solution of just adding Harris hasn’t worked. It’s time that we as a fanbase acknowledge that this pick was a mistake.

Running backs are a hard sell in the first round

Let me lay down the groundwork for the argument against Harris being a first-round pick: running backs aren’t that valuable anymore. Sure, having a capable back is great, but a stud running back alone isn’t enough anymore. Just look at the Titans and Browns, who have arguably the two best pure running backs in the league. Neither of them were first-round picks, and neither of them even made it to the postseason.

Runners wear down quickly, and in a passing-heavy league, a rushing attack doesn’t have to be elite, it has to be efficient. There is a reason that the top teams consistently in the NFL feature potent air attacks and star quarterbacks. Do teams like the Bills, Bengals, and Chiefs have capable runners? Sure, but they aren’t the reason for the teams’ success.

A first-round running back has to be an absolute game-changer at the position, and if he isn’t, it is hard to justify that pick. A player that defense has to build their entire gameplan around only to still struggle to contain them. If not, backs can be found in later rounds that can have enough success to sustain you.

Najee Harris hasn’t been elite for the Steelers

Simply put, Harris hasn’t been that kind of back for the Steelers. I know, I know, the team doesn’t scheme him right, or the line has been abysmal. For some reason, this fanbase is so focused on defending this pick even though the results have been lackluster. While he has cracked 1,000 rushing yards in both of his seasons, he is averaging a measly 3.9 yards per carry over that span.

Has he struggled due to an unideal situation, sure, but some of the faults still falls on him. He doesn’t always hit the hole right away and tries to bounce too many runs to the outside. He doesn’t have the speed to be successful there.

And please, quit with the line is so horrible he can’t run behind them argument. The line has steadily improved into an average unit. Jaylen Warren found success behind this line, and it should be more than enough for an elite runner (given his drafted position) to work with.

If the line was so bad, that should have been the priority in the draft. Landon Dickerson went about ten spots behind Harris and he has developed into a stout interior lineman for the Eagles. And then there is everyone’s favorite interior lineman, Creed Humphry, that lasted until the late second round. Either would have been better picks than Harris in the first round.

Running backs can be found elsewhere

Harris isn’t a horrible player by any means. I don’t want this to be an article bashing him, as he is a great locker room guy and can run well behind an ok line. That just isn’t enough value given his first-round status.

Look at some of the names that went after him. Elijah Mitchell is arguably the best running back in this class by a mile, but he can’t stay healthy. Javonte Williams looks like a freak (albeit, he was taken early in the second round). Meanwhile, Rhamondre Stevenson has become a versatile weapon. Frankly, he is having the type of impact you wanted to see out of Harris.

Are all of these players pound for pound better than Harris? You could argue no. Outside of Williams though, these players were taken multiple rounds after Harris was selected. Heck, just look at undrafted rookie running back Warren, who put up nearly 600 total yards and averaged a healthy 4.9 yards per carry.

He did all of that running behind the same offensive line that Harris did. Again, this isn’t saying that Warren is the better player (he isn’t), but the gap isn’t that big. Yet one player took a costly first-round selection to bring in and the other one was signed after the draft.

I could guarantee you that had Harris been drafted elsewhere and had put up identical stats through two seasons, no one would be bemoaning for this team not selecting him. They would point out his highs but see a very average running back on the field. A very average running back isn’t worth a first-round pick.

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Again, Harris isn’t a bad player, and he seems like a genuinely good guy, but it is time to admit that it was a mistake to draft him. He hasn’t lived up to the expectations he was given when he was drafted. Add in the lack of value a running back has, and the Harris selection wasn’t a good one for this team.