The regular season marks the culmination of an extensive investigation into who your team will be that year. By this point, you’ve gone through free agency, the draft, training camp, and the preseason. You feel good in your decisions insofar as you can create clarity without having played meaningful games. But there are still plenty of uncertainties that remain, whether at the start of the regular season or the end, and new ones continually develop over time.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will have no ‘specialist’ running backs because of Najee Harris’ versatility.
Explanation: Many teams, if not most, have moved away from the bell-cow-back model of running the football, delegating responsibilities across multiple candidates. There are third-down backs who are adept at catching the ball and diagnosing blitzers, while others specialize in short-yardage situations. Rookie Najee Harris is capable of excelling in all areas, even though they have other candidates on the roster such as Benny Snell and Kalen Ballage (and eventually Anthony McFarland again) who could take up some snaps.
He might get a slightly lesser workload early on, but I fully expect Najee Harris to play a similar percentage of snaps as Le’Veon Bell, which was around the 90-percent mark. That’s because, like Bell, he can do everything very well, or at least has the aptitude to develop that trait.
When you already have the best player on the field, why take him off? Of course, Harris isn’t going to play every snap, and Snell and/or Ballage will spell him from time to time, but that will be more of a planned rotational nature, or when he gets winded, rather than coming in the form of specialized niche roles.
It will not be consistent from game to game, necessarily, but there will be times that the Steelers and offensive coordinator Matt Canada use a specific reserve running back for a specific type of assignment, if they believe that it is a good matchup.
Matchups are something that Canada talks about all the time, and he said just last week that they are constantly evaluating the running back room to measure each player’s strengths and weaknesses and where they can be deployed. I think it’s a safe bet that Ballage, for example, will get some short-yardage work this year, or at least the chance to earn those snaps.