Predicting individual rushing statistics for the Steelers in 2023
Training camp buzz is at its peak, and the excitement surrounding the Steelers offense is gaining traction. With about a month to go until the season kicks off, it is a good time to begin making predictions about the offense.
This week, we will be taking a look at both the rushing and receiving aspects of the offense, breaking it down player-by-player to analyze what reasonable expectations for each player should be. Today, we are going to take a closer look at the running game.
The Steelers were definitely not the most efficient running team in 2022, but with an improved offensive line and a healthy group of running backs, the running game is expected to be the driving force of a young offense. Let’s take a closer look at where the Steelers’ rushing numbers will come from.
Note: This exercise will only include players predicted to rush for at least 100 yards during the season.
I am hoping for a monster season from Najee Harris, but let’s keep things in perspective. The offensive line has improved greatly, but Najee’s calling card as a player has never been efficiency. His numbers looked efficient on paper at Alabama, but considering some of his best games, the level of competition those games were against, and the talent along the offensive line, they are good, but not elite, numbers. Some collegiate statistics simply do not translate to the NFL, and typically, yards per carry is one of those things.
Having said all that, Harris recorded a meager 3.8 yards per carry last season. If he could up that by half a yard per carry, the additions along the offensive line paid off. Something between 4 and 4.5 yards per carry sounds about right for Najee in 2023, and I expect him to see better opportunities near the goal line, allowing him to hit double-digit touchdowns. These numbers may not jump off the page, but if the efficiency improves, that is what matters the most.
People in the fantasy world are wanting to pump up Jaylen Warren as a late-round sleeper, but I do not think he sees enough volume to merit his current ADP. I do expect him to receive touches on a weekly basis, but this is certainly going to be a backfield by committee. Mike Tomlin always prefers having a workhorse back, and personally, I do as well. It allows the offensive line’s timing of their blocks to be in sync with the style of running back in the backfield.
Now, this does not mean that a lead back should never be spelled to remain fresh for later in games. I see Warren as a guy who will receive roughly 5-10 touches per game, but I do not see any Steelers backup running back eclipsing 30% of the touches, no matter how good Warren may look. Barring a Najee injury, I foresee Warren getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 rushing attempts.
Pickett may not be Anthony Richardson, but he can definitely take advantage of open space on the ground. Predicting rushing totals for a quarterback is nearly impossible, as the numbers are often skewed from running out of bounds to avoid pressure, sneaks, and many other things. I do not expect monster rushing totals from Pickett, as I expect Matt Canada and Mike Tomlin to instill in him a “protect your body” mentality. If Pickett can scramble out of the pocket to pick up first downs here and there, that is all the Steelers need from their quarterback on the ground. These are modest, but solid, numbers for a quarterback of Pickett’s caliber. Four rushing scores from the red zone seems reasonable, as we saw three from him just last year.
Anthony McFarland, Jr.
Both McFarland and Calvin Austin III have loads of potential in Matt Canada’s offense, and I do expect both of them to make an impact in several games. However, their largest contributions in 2023 will likely come in the return game on special teams. With McFarland, I could see him being on the field for a series of downs here and there, but I do not expect him to get weekly touches as a runner. Do not undervalue his ability as a receiver, though.
Calvin Austin III
I think we see a good bit of Calvin Austin on jet sweeps this season, but what separates him from a Gunner Olszewski or Chase Claypool is his world-class quickness and speed that is so lethal coming laterally in the formation. I believe his explosiveness will play a key role in Matt Canada’s offense this season, and if he is given the chance to get a few reps on sweep plays during the season, do not be surprised when he pops a couple of them off and takes them to the house for scores.
What are you expecting from the Steelers backfield in 2023? Will Najee Harris go bonkers and have a true “breakout” season, or will Jaylen Warren eat into his carries? Be sure to share your thoughts on this in the comment section below!
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