Dating back to 2010, four runnings backs have claimed the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Could Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris make it five?
At +800 odds to win the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year according to DraftKings, Harris represents one of the NFL’s best value bets ahead of the 2021 season, according to Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon.
Historically, the Rookie of the Year award has leaned towards running backs with nine winning the award since 2000, marking nearly 50% of the winners in the 20 years since. However, in the last 10 years it’s leaned more towards quarterbacks as six have won the award in the last decade, including two straight in Arizona’s Kyler Murray and Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert.
However, 2021 may be much different, with guys like New York’s Zach Wilson, New England’s Mac Jones, Chicago’s Justin Fields and San Francisco’s Trey Lance expected to sit and watch early in the season. Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence is the favorite for now, but Harris provides great value as a running back who will get a heavy workload on the ground and through the air in Pittsburgh.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers will undoubtedly be out to prove it made sense to use a first-round pick on a running back, and Harris should be set to make an immediate impact after back-to-back 1,200-plus-yard seasons in which he scored a total of 50 touchdowns at Alabama,” Gagnon writes.
In early May, ESPN’s Mike Clay projected Harris to rush for 961 yards and seven touchdowns on 223 carries, adding another 51 receptions for 385 yards and two touchdowns.
That’s a total of 274 touches for 1,346 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns for Harris, which should be more than enough to claim Rookie of the Year honors.
For comparisons sake, the last running back to win the award was New York Giants star Saquon Barkley in 2018. That year, Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns on 261 carries and added 91 receptions for 721 yards and nine scores. Those numbers are eye-popping and dwarf Harris’s projections, but it’s important to keep in mind that those are nothing more than projections.
I would not be surprised if Harris pushes north of 1,500 total yards and finishes somewhere around 15 touchdowns. Remember, when the Steelers last had a semblance of a running game in 2018, James Conner scored 12 rushing touchdowns. Is it over the top to think Harris could do something similar as a rookie?