It’s a long wait between now and the start of training camp. Really, it’s the longest stretch of silence in the NFL calendar, as you have the post-Super Bowl haze in February, followed by the Combine and Pro Days, then free agency picks up and really carries you into the draft. Then you have OTAs and minicamp, and then, a month of nothing.
So here we are in the nothingness, which naturally lends itself to prospecting, projecting, and prognosticating—because there simply isn’t much else to talk about. That was probably the genesis of a piece put together from The Athletic, which asked each team’s beat writer for the outlet to make a prediction about who their team MVP would be.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, veteran beat writer Ed Bouchette chose rookie first-round running back Najee Harris, who seems destined to touch the ball more than anybody else this season, short of the center and quarterback. He wrote of the Alabama prospect:
While the MVP often is the quarterback and rarely a rookie, halfback Najee Harris easily could run away with it in his first season. The Steelers declared a new commitment to the run game soon after they finished on the bottom of the NFL in rushing last season. Then with their first draft pick, they selected Harris, the best back in college football. He’s big, he can catch, he can block, and Mike Tomlin has a history of running a “bell cow” back rather than by committee. It’s set up for Harris to be a star.
The team MVP is usually an offensive player, typically a skill position player, but in the past two years, it has been edge defender T.J. Watt, who has been a finalist for the Defensive Player of the Year Award two years running—many Steelers fans, of course, will argue that he should have won both times.
Between 2011 and 2018, however, a skill position player won it every year, including Antonio Brown three times, and Le’Veon Bell twice. JuJu Smith-Schuster was the most recent offensive player to win in 2018. Heath Miller also snuck in there during the 2012 season.
But if Harris can actually make the Steelers’ running game formidable, then it would seem he is the no-brainer candidate to be the team’s MVP, quite frankly, just based on their lack of success in this area for the most part since Bell left.
Unlike in the Brown era, the pass-catching talent is much more dispersed, as well, making it unlikely for any one player to have astronomical numbers. The Steelers were one of three teams last year to have five different players record at least five touchdowns, for example.
In contrast, Harris will be ‘the guy’ in the backfield. And he will also catch passes. And he will also block. He is MVP material, which is why they were willing to use a first-round pick on him in the first place. From that perspective, perhaps, it should be seen as an initial failure if he isn’t the team MVP this year, because that’s the sort of player they expect and need him to be.