2021 Offseason Questions: How Many Touches Will Najee Harris Have During Rookie Season?

Najee Harris at rookie minicamp

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books. 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. 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. 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 quo with the losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Mike Hilton?

These are the sorts of questions we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there are always questions to ask, though there is rarely a concrete answer. This is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all of their uncertainty.

Question: How many touches will Najee Harris have during his rookie season?

I think this is probably a question that has crossed a lot of fans’ minds at some point since the draft: What will Najee Harris’ workload be this season? And how will that be split between carries and receptions?

The decision to draft Harris was at least in part about improving the 2021 Steelers by addressing shortcomings in the running game. Presumably, it is tied to a desire to run the ball more frequently — and to be able to run the ball more frequently, by improving the frequency of positive plays.

Le’Veon Bell would typically play 85 percent of more of the snaps when he was in the game. He averaged nearly 25 touches per game during his time with the Steelers, which over the course of a 16-game schedule would be 400 touches.

Of course, they’re not going to expect Harris to touch the ball 400 times this year, even when factoring in the extra game (no, I didn’t forget about it). But what can we realistically expect? Of course, it hinges largely on how successful the running game is. We won’t know that until the season starts.

I do think that 300 touches is a realistic number. That averages out to about 17.5 touches per game. If he can manage something like 14 rushes and four receptions per game, we would get close to that figure. What do you think? What are your expectations for Harris and his workload as a rookie?

For what it’s worth, according to Stathead, Saquon Barkley in 2018 was the last rookie to hit 300 touches. Both Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette the year before that reached the mark, and Ezekiel Elliott the year before that. No rookie running back since 2018 has started and played in more than 13 games aside from James Robinson last year, who recorded 289 touches in 14 starts/games.

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