It came as a great shock and insult to many when it was suggested that Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris may not have been flawless from the first moment that he stepped on an NFL field. But the first-round pick has grown, considerably, since his first game this season, and a big part of that has just been in giving in to the perspective that everybody in the NFL is roughly as talented as you are, and that you’re not going to be able to turn every play.
“I understand a lot more. Ben [Roethlisberger] would always tell me, like, you can’t break every run in the NFL”, he told reporters earlier today about how he has adjusted his mindset in how he approaches a run. “So understanding how important it is, just to even get two yards or one yard in the NFL is really hard, especially with the type of guys they got across the ball”.
“Me understanding that not every run’s gonna be a home run and a four-yard run is good because now it’s second down, it’s shorter, and you could run better plays, it makes it easier for the offensive coordinator and the rest of the team”, he continued. “Taking what they give you in the NFL is kind of big, I’m learning”.
Harris’ traditional statistics might not necessarily blow you away. He is only averaging 3.7 yards per rush, and 5.3 yards per reception. In a vacuum, those are low totals, and they’re not necessarily outliers—he’s averaged under 3.5 yards per rush over his last two games, for example.
But he’s been running with a higher success rate than he was at the start of the season, and part of that is simply cutting out most of the negative runs, which were often produced when he was trying to make something out of nothing rather than taking what was there.
Of course, the improvement hasn’t been on just him, let alone his decision-making. The offensive line’s growth over the course of the season has been a key part in improving the success rate of the run game as well, particularly in situational ball.
A two-yard run on 3rd and 2 is a good play every time. That’s something every successful college running back has to learn when they get into the NFL. It’s not about settling for what is there, but rather about not abandoning it in trying to create something that isn’t. Not everybody is Barry Sanders, after all, and he certainly lost plenty of yardage over the course of his career.