Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren have massive roles in Steelers' new scheme

What is Najee Harris' role in the Pittsburgh Steelers new offensive identity?
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Steelers are changing their offensive identity. Consecutive years of subpar results led the front office to think outside the box. They invested in a veteran quarterback and signed him for the league minimum. Acquiring a versatile backup also became part of the plan. The new scenery appeals to Mike Tomlin’s unit and will help them succeed in the new campaign.

Najee Harris is vital to the new scheme, but is he the best running back for the future?  

Do the Pittsburgh Steelers have a versatile backfeild?

Dynamic tailback duos have been an X-factor for offensive coordinators throughout history. In 2006, Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor surpassed 1,300 scrimmage yards - carrying Jacksonville to the 2007 AFC divisional round. Ten years later, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram made the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl contenders. 

Two versatile rushers are better than one - so what would hinder the Steelers from exercising this approach? Flashes of a tandem in Pittsburgh emerged in 2023 - revitalizing the offense after weeks of poor performances. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren became catalysts for Matt Canada’s unit. They combined for 1,819 rushing yards and twelve touchdowns on the ground. Harris and Warren extended drives when punting seemed like the only option.

A unique combination of thunder and lightning complemented Pittsburgh’s offensive approach. Protecting the football became the biggest concern. It led to more late-season wins and a playoff berth. 

Will Najee Harris be prepared to play a vital role after declining his fifth-year option? 

An off-season scuffle for must-have installments is helping the Steelers right the wrongs of 2023. Russell Wilson and Justin Fields are the new leaders of the offense but have yet to prove themselves in their new threads. They expect to find success on the gridiron and will rely on a successful zone scheme to accomplish the mission.

A run-first option scheme complements quarterbacks with mobility. Arthur Smith’s newest quarterback tandem performs well on the run - fitting the rough draft of a new identity perfectly. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren will reap the rewards of a heavy ground game, but how well will the tandem produce?  

Impressive results from the previous campaign lead fans to believe the Steelers rushing game is heading in the right direction. At times, it felt like Harris achieved more success than recorded. Run lanes non-existent. The gains were minimal. The former first-round pick has met league expectations despite the hiccups on offense. He’s recorded over 1,000 yards in three seasons - achieving his career high (1,200) in 2023.

High expectations are a part of the culture. Harris is appreciated but must show more to help his team in the upcoming season. 

Contract negotiations make it difficult for players to speak to the media. Najee Harris is no exception. The Pro Bowl rusher declined his fifth-year option during the minicamp. He also has declined interviews with the media during the training camp.

Unusual behavior from the soul of Yinz social media could be a red flag. Harris is known for his eccentric personality and relationship with the fans. We hope Harris is preparing for an impactful season instead of a new contract.