The running back position in the game of football is far from dead, to be certain, but it has evolved. The idea of the ‘featured back’, a player who gets 350-plus touches year after year, has become less and less common, and there are typically only one to three players who hit that mark annually today. Even 300 touches is becoming more scarce—only four players did it last year, and five in 2018.
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris is on pace to come close to 400 touches during his rookie season, though he has fallen off of that pace somewhat. He would have to average 26 touches per game over the final four weeks to hit it. But he is prepared for it, either way, and has no concerns about his workload.
“If it’s a problem, I’ll tell [the coaches], but it has not been a problem”, he told reporters earlier today about his touches and his body. “I think we fall into the stereotype of, like, ‘oh my god, there’s so many amount of hits on a running back’. I don’t believe in that at all. I train for stuff like this. Like, I really train a lot to carry the load. I train to do that”.
Harris has 297 touches so far through the first 13 games of his career, which is the most in the NFL. He has 237 rushes for 873 yards and six rushing touchdowns, as well as 60 receptions for 397 yards and three more touchdowns.
And he believes he’s no worse for the wear—because he puts the work in. “How do you train to do that? I work out a lot”, he said. “Stuff like this, it doesn’t really affect me. Will it affect me down the road? I don’t know. But right know, I’ll tell you that I’m perfectly fine. 100 percent fine”.
He repeatedly pushed back against the idea of running backs taking a beating, believing that if you put in the time and effort to properly prepare, your cumulative workload shouldn’t really affect the longevity of your career, citing LeBron James in the NBA with regards to how much he spends on his body to continue to play at a high level in his 19th season.
“I invest a lot in my body”, Harris said, “just from cryo therapy, from yoga, from training a lot, from doing a lot of dry needling, from doing all types of stuff to recover well, and to train well, and to do other types of stuff, knowing that I’m gonna be having a couple games, or even know where I know I’m gonna be touching the ball 20-plus games. I think it’s really how you approach it”.
Of course, Harris is 23 years old. We can check back in with him when he’s 29 years old to see how his body feels then. I’m sure many running backs have come into the league believing as he does at 23 years old.