After starting the 2021 season firmly inside NFL.com’s RB Index, which is put together by former 9-year NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew each week, Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie Najee Harris took a precipitous fall out of the index — which runs the top 15 weekly — completely, largely due to the offensive line’s struggles in front of him early in the season.
In October though, Harris slowly started to climb back up the rankings. Now, ahead of the Week 9 matchup on Monday Night Football against the Chicago Bears, Harris is firmly back inside the top 10 of the RB Index. The October Offensive Rookie of the Month honor certainly had to help.
Currently, Harris sits at No. 7, which is where he started the season at in MJD’s positional rankings. The climb to No. 7 means Harris moved up four spots in one week due to the performance against the Cleveland Browns in Week 8 on the road, which is tied for the largest movement up or down in MJD’s rankings with Jacksonville’s James Robinson, who falls from No. 7 to No. 11, largely due to injury.
“The key to the Steelers’ offensive success is Harris, and the proof is in the pudding,” MJD writes. “The rookie running back has had at least 20 carries in each of the team’s last three games (all wins), including a career-high 26 carries for 91 yards and a TD in Sunday’s big win over Cleveland.”
It’s fair to state that Harris has been the driving factor in the Steelers’ turnaround after starting 1-3, but that would also overlook the improvement of the offensive line in front of him, which has gelled rather quickly in recent weeks, as well as the improved play and decision-making of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in recent weeks as well.
Having a consistent running game with Harris that is successful (59.1% successful run rate in October) really helps the Steelers try and stay ahead of the chains, convert third downs and methodically move the football down the field. There’s a clear recipe, as MJD points out, and the key ingredient is Harris toting the rock more often than not.