The pick is in. The debate will go on for some time. But there’s no denying that the addition of running back Najee Harris will make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game better than it has been in recent years. Or at least, it stands a very good chance of accomplishing that goal.
Regardless of how or when he got here, Harris is now the Steelers’ bell cow back, and he understands the assignment and pressure that will now rest largely on his shoulders. That pressure for Harris comes from essentially trying to revitalize a Steelers’ running game that had grown almost completely anemic down the stretch a year ago. It doesn’t phase him in the least.
“I understand that there was — that they did finish last in rushing last year, but I feel like through a lot of stuff, through practice and hard work, I feel like that can be changed,” he told reporters last night during his conference call about the significance of the Steelers’ rushing woes and his role in addressing them.
“I don’t feel pressure at all to be honest with you,” he added, of the burden of being accountable for the success or failure of the unit going forward. “I’ve been put in a lot of situations with that type of stuff put on me, especially in college. NFL is different, of course, but I feel like it’s nothing that I can’t do in time for sure.”
Harris finished his Alabama career with a number of school records. I don’t think that I have to point out they have a few significant alumni at his position, including some who are still in the NFL, such as Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, the latest 2,000-yard rusher.
Returning for his senior season in 2020, Harris rushed for 1,466 yards on 251 carries, finishing in the end zone on the ground 23 times. He added another four receiving scores on 43 catches for 425 yards. For his college career, he accumulated 3,843 rushing yards and 46 rushing touchdowns, with 4,624 yards from scrimmage, and 57 touchdowns.
The Steelers only rushed for 1,351 yards on the ground as a team in 2020 on 373 attempts, finishing last in yardage and last in yards per attempt at just 3.6. Their 12 rushing touchdowns also ranked just 27th in the league. The 2019 season was no better, also totaling fewer yards than Harris did in 2020. Even James Conner’s Pro Bowl season in 2018 couldn’t get them above Harris’ mark.
Of course, Pittsburgh has pretty consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league, if not near the very bottom, in rushing attempts. One has to imagine that they intend to run the ball more going forward — provided that they can manage to be successful at it.