Much was made about what RB Najee Harris’ workload would look like for the team’s second preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles in lead up to the game. HC Mike Tomlin mentioned in an interview before the game that they intended to work him enough to get him more experience as well as get a better feel for him in their offense. Harris did play a majority of the snaps in the first quarter for the Steelers, but much like his debut against the Cowboys, his impact wasn’t evident by what showed up on the stat sheet. Harris had two carries for ten yards and caught one of two targets for nine yards against the Eagles on Thursday night. While it may seem difficult to derive a lot out of such a small sample size, I do think that there were some key points that could be highlighted.
On his first carry of the night, we continue to see the trend of Najee Harris falling forward on contact, pushing the pile and fighting for yards. Shortly after taking the handoff, Harris is met at the LOS by the blitzing linebacker from the A-gap as well as the defensive end coming free off of the edge. However, Harris manages to spin out of contact and turn upfield, using his right hand to stay upright as he gathers himself against the ground and fights through contact to pick up a couple extra yards for a gain of six on the play.
Initially when I watched this play live, I wasn’t overly impressed. When I went back to watch the game over and saw the play from the aerial view, you truly appreciate the effort as well as the vision and contact balance Harris displays on this run. He manages to sidestep the linebacker and spin away from the defensive end almost simultaneously, showing great urgency to get moving upfield and get as much yardage as he can be literally crawling across the grass till he is finally brought down.
Later on the drive, we got a glimpse of Harris in the passing game, faking the handoff on the play action and proceeded to leak out to the flat on the left side of the field. Rudolph senses the pressure coming after #85 Eric Ebron is unable to sustain his block on #96 Derrick Barnett, checking it down to Harris with room to run. Harris easily picks up the first down, making the first defender miss on the diving tackle attempt but is bottled up shortly after by multiple defenders converging on him. Initially, I was sort of disappointed Harris didn’t show more elusiveness by creating after the catch, but to his credit, he did make one guy miss in space at his size and had six total defenders within five yards of him.
Right after he moved the chains on the previous play, we see Harris get the handoff on the run to the right, finding the gap on the left side and gets vertical up the field. As he approaches the first down marker, #28 Anthony Harris comes in to stop him before he can move the chains. However, Najee Harris hurdles Anthony Harris with ease as the defender ducks his head, getting spun around in the air by #49 Alex Singleton and #3 Steven Nelson as he falls to the ground, but uses his left arm to break his fall. As Alex Kozora mentioned on the Terrible Podcast, this play just encapsulates the athleticism Harris has at his size to jump over a grown man while running full speed with relative ease. Sadly, the play didn’t count do to a penalty.
Here is another run that didn’t count do to a penalty flag in the first quarter by Harris where he attempts another hurdle on the right sideline. Harris takes the ball to the right, angling around the first defender that #51 Trai Tuner gets called for holding and then stiff arms #57 T.J. Edwards for the Eagles once he gets to the LOS. Then, Harris sees #22 Marcus Epps coming to meet him at the sideline. Instead of putting his shoulder down into Epps to get the yards needed for the first down, Harris opts to try and hurdle him. However, Epps anticipates this and goes high into Harris who is airborne, ushering him out of bounds onto his back.
Much was made on social media after the two hurdle attempts, stating that Harris shouldn’t be doing this in the preseason and needs to take this component out of his game for his own safety. While I do agree that there are instances like the one from the play above that Harris should opt to make another move like a stiff arm or put his shoulder down into the smaller defensive back to get the first down, I do understand that this is a part of his game. When we scouted Harris coming out of Alabama, we were awed with his ability to leap over grown men coming at him full-speed, making the most of his lack of impressive speed and acceleration by creating in other ways.
Like we saw in the Eagles game, Harris didn’t show great open field speed to pull away from defenses, but he does have the strength, power, and rare agility for his size to continually get positive gains on the ground as well as through the air. Much like HC Mike Tomlin says, Najee Harris shouldn’t be one to “live in his fears” of getting hurt trying to hurdle another defender. Rather, I just hope with more game experience at the NFL level, he will have a better idea of when to use that skill to his advantage or choose another tool in his toolbox to use that would be a better choice for the situation.
What are your thoughts on Najee Harris’ performance? Do you think he should notable improvement from his first preseason game? What are you looking to see from him in the next two preseason games? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!