The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.
Since then, they have lost several players in free agency who were key members of the offense and defense, and multiple starters retired, as well. They made few notable additions in free agency, and are banking on contributions on offense from their rookies, as well as perhaps a last ride for Ben Roethlisberger.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. They know that they have Roethlisberger for one more year, but was that even the right decision? How successful can Najee Harris be behind a questionable offensive line? What kind of changes can Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm bring to the offense? And how can the defense retain the status quote with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.
Question: How many passes will Najee Harris catch during his rookie season?
It’s very rare these days that a team would draft a running back in the first round who wasn’t viewed as having a complete skill set, which in today’s league means running, receiving, and blocking. Najee Harris certainly has that triple-threat thing going for him, and his comments during rookie minicamp certainly seem to imply that they have every intention of making full use of his receiving skills.
Since drafting Le’Veon Bell in 2013, the Steelers have preferred to make use of the running back position in the passing game fairly liberally, even managing to produce a career-best season in that regard from DeAngelo Williams in the one year here in which he had to start 10 games. Even James Conner in 2018 caught 55 passed for 497 yards.
But this is still a team with a deep wide receiver room, and now with two pass-catching tight ends. How is the ball going to get distributed between JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, and Harris? That’s a lot of ‘mouths to feed’, so to speak.
At the height of his career as a receiver, Bell caught 83 passes for the Steelers in 2014 for 853 yards and three touchdowns as part of a franchise record 2215-yard season. Harris has similar potential…with an extra game to do it.