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 explosive plays will come for running back Najee Harris (and he will be at least an above-average runner in generating explosive runs of 20-plus yards).
Explanation: The longest run of Najee Harris’ career so far, which encompasses 176 carries across nine games, is just 20 yards. He has two 20-yard runs and an 18-yard run, but no others of 15 or more. That ranks tied with many players for the 18th-most in the league, yet he has the second-most rushing attempts.
Explosive runs aren’t terribly hard to come by in general in the NFL. Only three players had 10 such runs last year, for example, and one of them was Lamar Jackson. The others were Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb. Jackson’s two leading running backs were tied for fourth, and several of the next players on the list are also mobile quarterbacks. Only Jackson and Chubb had 10-plus explosive runs in 2019.
In other words, when we’re talking about Najee Harris and saying he only has two explosive runs through nine career games—okay? Is that really so horrible for a rookie playing behind a novice offensive line? There is plenty of meat on the bone in terms of room for improvement, not just from Harris as a player, but for what the offense can do around him to create the environment for explosive carries on the ground. He may not get them this season, but they’ll come.
Most of us agree that Le’Veon Bell was a great running back for the Steelers. And yet he only recorded 27 total explosive runs over the course of his entire Steelers career. 62 games. 1,229 rushing attempts. Just 2.2 percent of his rushing attempts produced 20 or more yards.
There’s a reason Harris gets compared to Bell a lot, and it’s not simply because they both were drafted by the Steelers. They’re not one-for-one comps, but they have enough similarities in their playing style and attributes, including speed, to suggest that it’s a decent comparison point for future projections.
Harris might get himself five to seven explosive runs per season or something like that, but he’s not going to break many 40-plus-yard runs. Although nobody has had more than four of those in a season since Saquon Barkley as a rookie in 2018. Yet Harris would be lucky to get one per season. He just doesn’t have that kind of long speed, no matter how explosive he might be in the box. And you don’t have to have elite speed to be a great running back.