Steel Curtain Network: A Pittsburgh Steelers podcast

Should Najee Harris be in line for a second contract?

The Pittsburgh Steelers liked Najee Harris enough in the 2021 NFL Draft they selected him with their first round draft pick. At one time, this would be considered conventional thought, but with the devaluing of the running back position many saw the selection of the Alabama standout back as a reach.

After two full seasons with the Steelers, Harris has proven to be effective, but many are still looking for the performance which most feel has him looking like the 1st Round value some expect.

Harris is a team-first player who often just sticks to himself and stays out of the news. That’s a good thing, and a reason why Mike Tomlin labeled him a leader after only one season as a professional. Harris is someone who doesn’t get much publicity outside of the regular season, but it is worth discussing if some of the narratives surrounding the former Crimson Tide standout are fact or fiction.

What are some of those narratives? Here are a few:

“Overrated”

“Bust”

“An example of why you don’t take a running back in the 1st Round”

“Jaylen Warren, an UDFA, can duplicate his success.”

You can see what some, not all, are saying about the Steelers former first round draft pick. When I see/hear people say these things, I immediately think about validating these narratives. Is Harris somehow under-performing in just two seasons as a pro?

Let’s look at his statistics:

RUSHING

2021: 17 games / 307 attempts / 1,200 yards / 7 TDs / 3.9 ave.
2022: 17 games / 272 attempts / 1,034 yards / 7 TDs / 3.8 ave.

RECEIVING

2021: 74 receptions / 467 yards / 3 TDs / 5.0 ave. per target
2022: 41 receptions / 229 yards / 3 TDs / 4.3 ave. per target

When people pour over these statistics, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers. Some will look at the total yards in 2022 and see a downward trend. But are they remembering what happened last year?

Harris suffered a foot injury in training camp which hindered his overall mobility early in the season. Also, when Kenny Pickett was inserted into the lineup it absolutely hindered the amount of receptions/yards he saw in comparison to Ben Roethlisberger in 2021. Lastly, what about the offensive line? Anyone remember the dumpster fire they were to start 2022, only to slowly improve. What should shock no one, is how Harris’ stats followed with their success.

Many will view this as nothing more than excuses for Harris, and I understand that, but when you look at everything from a global perspective, could Harris be in line for a second contract?

The last Steelers running back who was given a non-franchise tag second contract was Verron Haynes. That’s it. Will Harris break that trend?

Leaving the past in the past, I foresee an improved season for Harris in 2023. Not only will a second year Jaylen Warren be able to take some of the carries off Harris, but the improvements in the offensive line should pay dividends for the running game. Pickett also entering Year 2 should also help open up the running game, which will benefit Harris.

But should Harris get that second contract? I absolutely think he should, and will prove that in 2023. You can hear more of my own thoughts in the podcast below, but we also want to hear what you think. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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