So much for a rookie wall.
In what looked like a tough close to his rookie season, Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Najee Harris not only avoided any type of rookie wall — he busted right through that perceived wall, racking up a career-high 188 rushing yards and the game-sealing touchdown in Ben Roethlisberger’s home finale in a 26-14 win over the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football.
The performance was so dominant — Harris recorded 181 of his 188 yards after contact — that NFL.com and former nine-year NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew had no choice but to elevate the Steelers’ rookie into his top 5 in the Week 18 NFL.com RB Index, a list that Jones-Drew compiles each week based on his own rankings at the position.
Previously, Harris was sitting at No. 8 in Jones-Drew’s rankings, but following his performance against the Browns, Harris climbed three spots in the rankings to No. 5, tying New Orleans Saints’ running back Alvin Kamara for the largest jump in the rankings with three spots.
Sitting at No. 5, Harris climbed over the likes of New England’s Damien Harris, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, and Arizona’s James Conner to crack the top 5.
“What a great home finale for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger went out with a victory. The defense sacked Baker Mayfield nine times. And, my favorite part, Najee Harris broke Hall of Famer Franco Harris’ Steelers rookie record of 1,055 rushing yards set in 1972,” Jones-Drew writes. “Harris has a bright future and will be the center of this offense for years to come as the organization makes a transition at QB.”
It was a great home finale overall for the Steelers as not only did Pittsburgh send off Roethlisberger with the proper goodbye, but the Steelers beat down the Cleveland Browns and Harris showed just how special of a player he truly is with a performance he’s been building towards all season long.
The rushing performances haven’t always been pretty, but Harris has proven to be the right man for the position in Pittsburgh for years to come, not only due to his ability to force missed tackles (a team-high 99 on the season, based on my own charting), but also his incredible effort snap to snap, refusing to go down on first contact and consistently fighting for every single blade of grass possible.
Quietly, even if it has a lot to do with the volume of work, Harris is also in the top 5 in rushing yards in the NFL this season, which shows just how special he is and will be moving forward. The Steelers got a good one; it’s time everyone realized that.