Thanks to a standout showing last week, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris’ rookie season is looking better than it did even a week ago, particularly from a numbers perspective, improving his yards per carry by a full three tenths of a yard on the season in just one week.
You evaluate running backs by yards per carry at your own risk, of course, but the obvious reality is that his 28-carry, 188-yard showing against the Cleveland Browns was obviously his highlight of his rookie year. And head coach Mike Tomlin is now challenging him to look at the next step.
“He’s a big-time back, and so our discussions need to move in the direction that is appropriate for someone of his talent level and what’s he’s proven to be his skill level”, he said yesterday during an episode of the Mike Tomlin Show. “Last week, we talked a lot about, when he’s in the stadium with Nick Chubb, that he needs to outperform Nick Chubb”.
Chubb is a multiple-time Pro Bowl running back for the Browns, and one of the very best in the league. The Steelers held him to 119 total yards on 28 carries in two games against him this year. Harris rushed for 279 yards on 59 carries in those same games, with two touchdowns.
“He needs to take that matchup, that head-to-head component of that matchup personally, in the way that two high-scoring basketball players might take a particular matchup”, Tomlin said. “Although they’re not directly regarding one another, their impact on the game is felt. And so I’m starting to challenge him in ways like that”.
“When he steps into a stadium versus Nick Chubb, he needs to get the better of Nick Chubb. When he steps into a stadium with Joe Mixon, same thing”, he continued. “We’ve got a couple of top-quality running backs from a global perspective right here in the north, and to be quite honest, when he steps into the stadium, he has to outperform them. He has the talent level, that is his and our agenda, so we’ve got some work to do”.
The Baltimore Ravens will also be getting—well, their entire running back room back next year after losing each of their top three running backs to season-ending injuries in August or thereabouts. That includes J.K. Dobbins, who rushed for 805 yards on only 134 carries with nine touchdowns as a rookie in 2022.
The AFC North is loaded with talented running backs. The Steelers are counting on their own to take ownership of the title of the best of the best, not just in the division, but inside of every stadium that he steps into, whether it’s Chubb or Derrick Henry or Alvin Kamara, Jonathan Taylor, or anybody else. That’s who they drafted him to be. That’s who they expect him to be going forward.