Najee Harris should worry about living up to his draft status before talking money

Najee is already advocating for bigger running back contracts, but he has plenty to prove first.
Pittsburgh Steelers, Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers, Najee Harris / Eakin Howard/GettyImages

This is a sticky situation and one that could cause controversy among the fanbase. Early in the week, some of the most notable running backs around the NFL have linked arms in an effort to raise awareness of unequal pay. They claim that running backs are not earning the type of money that they deserve, and they want justice from front offices in contract negotiations.

This edgy debate blew up after the deadline to sign players on the franchise tag had passed. Some of the top running backs in the league like Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard were not able to come to terms with their respective teams, as they felt like they were low-balled in contract negotiations.

This news had Najee Harris speaking up. The Pittsburgh Steelers running back retweeted some of the biggest voices at the position Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler while chiming in with plenty of his own thoughts on Twitter.

While I get why running backs are upset and I understand that Najee is stepping up for players he believes are mistreated at the same position he plays, I'm not sure if Harris has a lot of pull right now when talking about money.

Najee needs to prove that he's a real asset to the Steelers before talking money

Since entering the league as a first-round pick from the 2021 NFL Draft, expectations have been high for Najee Harris. The former Alabama star was the most well-recognized back in the nation at the time. However, I feared that he was getting a bit overrated thanks to running behind an impressive line in college.

Over his first two years in the NFL, things haven't exactly gone according to plan. Though Harris has been able to manage at least 1,000 rushing yards in both seasons, this comes more as a result of being a high-volume player than anything else. Efficiency-wise, Harris has been among the worst starting running backs in the league since 2021.

According to advanced statistics from Football Outsiders and PlayerProfiler, Harris ranked 62nd in true yards per carry, 48th in yards per touch, 46th in breakaway run rate, 33rd in yards above replacement, and 35th in run success rate. This was in addition to carving out just 3.8 yards per carry in 2023 and a dismal 4.3 yards per target in the passing game.

Of course, fans will be quick to side with the former first-round pick and the fact that he dealt with a foot injury. While he personally assured me that the injury didn't affect him, it could have been a bigger issue than he led on.

Either way, there's simply no way that Omar Khan and the front office can start talking about a potential contract extension with Najee after what we saw from him in each of his first two NFL seasons. Whether it's explosive runs, run success rate or just game-to-game consistency, the results simply haven't been where they need to be.

Harris could very well turn things around with a monster year in 2023, and if this becomes the case, then the Steelers can at least entertain what a second contract would look like. As of now, however, there is simply no way to justify a big second contract to a player at an unimportant position who hasn't performed well early on -- regardless of his former first-round draft status.