Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris certainly has been a workhorse for the team through the first 10 weeks of the NFL season, and with Week 11 now upon us, there seems to be no signs that his workload will be diminishing anytime soon. On Thursday. Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada held his weekly press conference, and during it he was asked a question pertaining to the heavy workload Harris has seen so far during his rookie season.
In short, Canada was asked if feels the need to get some other running backs more snaps in games, and if there are ways during the week during practice where the team can allow the rookie to not work as hard so he can be saved some for gamedays.
“Faulk [running back coach Eddie Faulkner] does a great job of managing him [Harris] during the week,” Canada said. “You know, Najee is a guy that wants to go all the time. Number of touches in a game and those things, I mean, as you look at that game [against the Detroit Lions] as it evolved, or any game, you want him to get as many touches as he can. We don’t want to wear him out. So, it’s a real fine line, but every game we’re just trying to get out of the game with a win. So, I don’t have the answer to your question. I respect your question. It’s a 17-game season and hopefully a long run in the playoffs. Where does that happen? Where are the diminishing returns? We’re certainly looking at it and watching it. He’s been productive and strong at the finishes of games and that’s how we’re doing it. But we are certainly aware of it.”
Canada and the Steelers are probably aware of the fact that Harris now leads the NFL in snaps played by a running back with 540. To add some context to that, Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift is second with 447 snaps played. Harris is also now second in the NFL in total touches with 190, and only Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry has more.
In case you need the math, Harris is on pace to play 1,020 snaps this season and touch the football nearly 360 times. To put that into some perspective, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott let all running backs in snaps played in 2020 with 787. Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey led the NFL in 2019 and 2018 in total snaps played at his position with 1,056 and 965, respectively.
So, will the Steelers have to ease off on the workload they give to Harris soon? Probably. At least one would think. That said, the Steelers really don’t have a great alternative to replace him, even though they have three other running backs on their current 53-man roster in Anthony McFarland Jr., Benny Snell Jr., and Kalen Ballage. McFarland, by the way, has only dressed and played in one game since coming off the Reserve/Injured list after the team’s bye week. In that one game that McFarland dressed for and played in, he logged all of seven snaps and touched the football just once. He also played all of 89 snaps during his 2020 rookie season.
Harris is obviously used to being a bell cow running back. That said, and even though he was the Steelers’ first-round draft pick this year, Canada and company better start finding more ways to not have him log so many snaps in games moving forward. At the pace Harris is on, he might be completely worn down to a nub by the end of the regular season, which hopefully ends with the Steelers having a spot in the playoffs.