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Brooks: Rookies Sparking Offensive Turnaround In Pittsburgh

It’s not hard to see in the most recent three-game winning streak for the Pittsburgh Steelers just how important the four offensive rookies are to success on that side of the football.

Obviously, running back Najee Harris is the true bellcow running back and difference-maker this team has lacked in recent years, and tight end Pat Freiermuth looks like the second coming of Heath Miller at this point in time. Rookie center Kendrick Green and rookie left tackle Dan Moore Jr. have been just as important to the turnaround in Pittsburgh in recent weeks though, serving as key parts of an offensive line that continues to gel and improve by the day, let alone the week.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the four rookies on offense holding down key roles for the Steelers through eight weeks are starting to get some serious attention from the major outlets, including NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, a former NFL defensive back and league scout in his own right.

In his weekly Friday scouting notebook, Brooks praised the four rookies in Pittsburgh on the offensive side of the football for helping spark the turnaround in the Steel City.

Tabbed as ‘our kinda guys’ selections in Pittsburgh — or OKGs as Brooks likes to call them in the scouting community — Harris, Freiermuth, Green and Moore Jr. have all worked their way into starting roles and have run with the opportunity in front of them.

Harris is obviously the headliner, taking a star turn in the NFL so quickly. While the raw numbers might not look star-like on paper (128 carries, 479 yards, three TDs; 37 catches, 273 yards, two touchdowns) the Alabama product is on pace to make NFL history through eight weeks.

With his heavy workload, Harris is on pace to join Los Angeles Rams’ Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and Indianapolis Colts’ Hall of Famer Edgerrin James as rookies who have exceeded 400 touches in their rookie seasons.

“Harris was expected to add a spark as a big, hybrid back with A+ skills running and receiving. He reminds me of Le’Veon Bell, although his playing style is vastly different from the former All-Pro,” Brooks writes about Harris. “That said, Harris’ presence has given the Steelers the ability to utilize a ball-control offense that meshes a powerful running game with a dink-and-dunk aerial attack. The rookie is on pace for 401 touches (311 carries and 90 receptions) this season, which means he’s in line to join Hall of Fame inductees Eric Dickerson (441 in 1983) and Edgerrin James (431 in 1999) as the only players with 400-plus touches in their rookie seasons. With Harris seeing his rushing attempts increase in each of Pittsburgh’s past five games, he is the key to the Steelers’ revamped offensive approach.”

It’s hard to argue with Brooks there, as Harris has been a key focal point offensively in the last month or so, culminating with the NFL’s October Offensive Rookie of the Month Award, which comes after the Steelers won three straight, reasserting themselves in the AFC North race, as well as the AFC playoff picture as a whole.

He hasn’t done it along though.

Freiermuth has filled the void of JuJu Smith-Schuster as the third down, chain-moving tight end, providing veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with a safety outlet in the middle of the field. His presence has helped open some things up on the outside in Pittsburgh once again.

“Freiermuth has quietly emerged as a key piece of the offensive puzzle with 22 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in seven games,” Brooks writes. “The 6-foot-5, 258-pounder has converted 15 of his 22 catches into first downs as a designated chain-mover for Big Ben. The big-bodied tight end excels when posting up, utilizing his superior size to box out smaller defenders between the hashes.”

Fifteen of 22 catches going for first downs — a whopping 68% — seems like an unsustainable pace, but if anyone can do it, it’s Freiermuth. He catches everything in sight.

As for Green and Moore Jr., they’ve certainly had their struggles overall, as has the entire offensive line, but both are starting to find their footing in the NFL. Moore Jr. is coming off of a rough game trying to block Cleveland’s Myles Garrett on his own, but that baptism by fire will only help accelerate his development in the end.

“Lastly, the contributions of Green and Moore on the offensive line cannot be overlooked,” Brooks writes. “The starting rookie duo has steadily improved each week, and the offensive output has surged as a result. It is not always pretty, but the offense has been effective, giving the Steelers a chance to climb back into playoff contention.”

The two young guys up front have certainly helped reestablish the run game in Pittsburgh with their nasty, physical style of play in that aspect of the game. The reestablished run game has given the Steelers real balance on offense for the first time in years, and has helped take some pressure and work off of Roethlisberger’s shoulders in what is likely his final season.

Hard to ask for more from a handful of young rookies right away in their NFL careers. Here’s to the Steelers adding more OKGs in the future.

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