Pittsburgh Steelers first-year running back Josh Harris began the 2014 league year without a team, having gone unsigned following the 2014 NFL Draft, but he finished the season being given the most carries for the team during their postseason appearance.
When looking back at Harris’ timeline, however, there is certainly no clear upward trajectory, but rather a more nuanced, curvy path that tells a more interesting tale, delving further into the past, yet offering little about the future.
Harris was expected to be a late-round draft pick after rushing for 2195 yards and 19 touchdowns collegiately in 42 games, but all 32 teams passed him up for all seven rounds. He was given a rookie minicamp tryout opportunity with the Dallas Cowboys, but he remained unsigned.
Later, he accused his former coaches at Wake Forest of possibly painting him in a bad light to NFL personnel, suggesting that he was a negative influence in the locker room, which he believed led to his being undrafted.
It wasn’t until a day after the Steelers had already opened up training camp a year ago that Harris finally managed to hook up with the team. Throughout the end of July and the month of August, the undrafted rookie kept his head above water and slowly crept up to the depth chart, garnering enough attention that the team elected to keep him as a fourth running back on the practice squad.
While he spent the majority of the year there, Harris was called up mid-way through the month of November following the release of LeGarrette Blount. Of course, that still didn’t buy him many snaps, all of which were situationally determined. He got one carry after a long run by Le’Veon Bell, and a few more later to close out a comfortable victory.
It wasn’t until Bell went down injured in the season finale that he got a bit more work, receiving five carries against the Bengals. Though he only gained seven yards, he had a long run of over 50 yards negated by a holding penalty that did not influence the play, which the coaching staff appears still to remember.
Despite the sliver of potential that he showed in that last game, the Steelers chose to sign veteran running back Ben Tate and allow him to start the wildcard game against the Ravens, but Harris got more work as the game wore on and Tate’s mistakes piled up. He led the team with 25 rushing yards on nine attempts, a product of the offensive line’s struggles against a tough Ravens front seven.
Might things have gone differently in that game if Harris started, as was anticipated prior to the game? Did he feel slighted to lose that opportunity? “I put it more on me that I didn’t show them enough in practice that they felt like they could give me more time”, he said, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Entering his second year, and knowing that there will be an opportunity to begin the season, the Steelers again turned to a veteran back, signing DeAngelo Williams to start during Bell’s suspension.
That doesn’t mean he can’t get his snaps. But it does mean he will have to work for them, which he knows.
“I’m trying to make sure that when I have my chance now, I’ll take full advantage of it,” he said. A chance is what he has, and the past is what we know of him. What he does with his chance will determine his future.