We can see changes coming on the horizon in Pittsburgh. A new draft class has arrived that is sure to leave a lasting mark on the team and quarterback Kenny Pickett is poised to take the next step forward. These things aren't hard for Steelers fans to see. Something else that isn't hard to see is how much better Jaylen Warren has been than Najee Harris since the start of the 2022 season.
In terms of raw numbers, Najee takes the cake... but that's only because his workload has been so much bigger. While we would expect Jaylen Warren's efficiency to dip a bit if asked to carry the load, there's no debate as to which running back has been more efficient.
The data is just as easy to read as their performances are on the field. In addition to blowing by Harris in terms of yards per carry and yards per reception, advanced statistics from Football Outsiders and PlayerProfiler show just how big the efficiency gap is between Warren and Najee.
There are always going to be fans in Najee's corner who will support him no matter what, but many Steelers fans are coming to the realization that Warren just has more to offer. Sadly, offensive coordinator Matt Canada doesn't see it this way.
Steelers OC isn't open to competition for RB1 job
Despite the dominance of Jaylen Warren during training camp and the preseason, the Steelers OC recently sang the praises of his former first-round running back to the media, per TribLIVE.
"“Najee is our one. There’s no doubt about that. I’m never going to lock ourselves into any kind of, ‘What it’s going to be?’ Or, ‘How it’s going to go.’ I don’t think that’s fair to anybody. But, certainly, we’re planning on Najee being Najee when we start the regular season.”"- Matt Canada on Najee Harris via TribLIVE
It doesn't matter how much Warren continues to impress. Canada is choosing to shut down this starting running back debate before it even starts. He continued his praise for Najee:
"“Look at what we asked Naj to do the last couple of years. I mean, you guys [in the media] talked about it after his Year 1, right? How many touches he had, how many times he was on the field, the amount of plays, and all of those things. And last year, we ran the football quite a bit. Naj was a big, big part of it. Not that Jaylen wasn’t. Your body can [only] take so much.”"- Matt Canada on Najee Harris via TribLIVE
Everything Canada said essentially praises the volume of touches that Harris was able to handle. Nowhere did he ever talk about the explosive plays he made or how efficient he was as a runner. This is probably because there isn't much to note in a positive manner.
Over his first two NFL seasons, we have seen nothing but excuse-making for the lack of efficiency Harris has shown as a runner, receiver, or blocker. Everyone wants to point to a bad offensive line or an injured foot. When he's healthy and without excuse, what will be the reason for his lack of elite play?
It's important to consider that Jaylen Warren was dealing with the exact same offensive line in Pittsburgh. Personally, I think the difference in traits is easy to see. If you made a list of all the things that are important at the running back position (speed, burst, vision, elusiveness, etc.) you'll find that Warren trumps Harris in most of these categories.
Forget about where Najee was drafted. If he and Warren were both undrafted free agents coming in on a clean slate, would anyone think that Harris deserves to be handed the keys to the RB1 job in Pittsburgh? Matt Canada needs to stop speaking in absolutes when it comes to the running back position and simply let the talent and results on the field determine the pecking order in the backfield.