Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris has so far played all but three of the team’s offensive snaps through two games, by far the highest percentage of his team’s snaps for any running back in the league during that time.
That number, insofar as it’s relevant, has been helped by two key facts: the offense has not sustained drives nor possessed the ball favorably. They’ve hardly managed much more than 100 snaps between the first two games. They rank 29th in average drive time and 24th in plays per drive. They rank 26th in average time of possession at just 26:10 per game.
So that’s the hidden reason why Harris hasn’t been coming off of the field much at all—he almost literally hasn’t needed a rest, though he does rank tied for second in total offensive snaps at the position, behind only Ezekiel Elliott. And that’s how he wants it right now, considering the positives and negatives.
“Me playing every snap, of course, is the best way for me to learn”, he told reporters on Friday. “But the con is, whenever I do make a mistake, there’s not gonna be a coach there to say, ‘hey, you need to do this, this, this’. You’ve really got to learn yourself. But I always feel like the best way to learn is me going out there and making the mistakes so you can build from it”.
Harris also talked pretty liberally about the fact that he understands he still has a lot to learn, almost with the sense that he feels the more he learns, the more he realizes he doesn’t know. He also talked about how he had a similar experience entering college, though, giving him confidence that he will get to where he needs to be.
The first-round pick does have all the talent to be exactly the back that the Steelers thought they were drafting, but he’s not there yet. He is capable of running hard, breaking some long runs here and there. He is capable of running routes and fielding the ball with soft hands. He is capable of blocking out on the perimeter and picking up blitzes in the backfield.
But he slips off of blocks and allows pressure. He fails to see some holes and doesn’t gain all the yardage that was potentially blocked. He doesn’t always look entirely comfortable finding zones, and has had some shaky moments trying to field passes.
None of these are particularly concerning as long as they don’t become habit-forming. It’s all a part of the growth process of a young NFL player, one who understands very well that he is still in the learning phase, and who has the work ethic to get to the other side of this process.