It’s easy to forget about in a loss, and it’s clearly far from a headline story, but Najee Harris set a record in Thursday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Harris is up to 297 touches on the season, a record number for a Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie. And he still has four games to go.
Against the Vikings, Harris surpassed Le’Veon Bell’s mark of 289 set in 2013. Here are the top five rookie touch leaders in team history, with Harris now sitting above all others.
So it’s Harris, Bell, and everyone else. By the time this year ends, Harris will have plenty of space between himself and Bell, too. He is averaging 22.8 touches per game, putting him on pace for about 387 in 2021. If he hits that number, it’d make for the sixth-most touches by any rookie in NFL history. If he can get over the 400 touch mark, he’d become only the third player to ever so do, joining Eric Dickerson (441) and Edgerrin James (431).
Harris’ workload comes as little surprise. Drafted to be the team’s workhorse, he is exactly that. Their three down back who plays in all situations. On the season, he’s logging 85% of the offense’s snaps. In fact, no other RB in football even sits at 70% heading into this week’s slate of games with second and third place runners D’Andre Swift and Darrell Henderson not playing this weekend, either.
He’s practically the only back who carries the football and is a checkdown machine, up to 60 receptions on the season. He needs just three more to set another Steelers’ rookie record for most catches, breaking Chase Claypool’s mark set last year.
It’s an enormous credit to Harris for having the conditioning to handle such a workload. That’s something that gets taken for granted and is routinely overlooked. We focus so much on traits, speed, power, agility, that we lose sight of guys being in football shape to showcase those traits. Doesn’t matter what your 40 time is if you can’t catch your breath in the fourth quarter. It helps that Harris comes from a top-shelf Alabama program that prepares college players as well as any, but the jump to the NFL is still significant just in games played alone. Harris has already played 17 of them, plus training camp, plus practice.
The Steelers’ offense certainly hasn’t made it an efficient year for Harris. But those poor relative numbers, like his 3.7 YPC, aren’t his fault. Harris has earned virtually every yard he’s gained this season. His lack of open-field explosiveness does bring his average down, but he’s a hard-nosed runner who has created plenty of something out of nothing this season. And he has or will set multiple Steelers’ records along the way.