It didn’t quite go as planned, aided by an injury, but it did help him secure a historic mark. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris set a new NFL rookie record for the most touches without a fumble. He already had the most touches without a fumble heading into Week 18 with 366, but, of course, you have to finish the year and make sure you don’t fumble before you can earn the record.
The first-round pick did return to the game in the second half after suffering an arm injury, and it helped him make his mark even more impressive. He finished the day, including a key overtime first-down run, with 15 touches, giving him 381 touches on the year.
That is the second-most touches in NFL history (since at least 1940) without a fumble, behind only Gerald Riggs, who recorded 430 touches without fumbling for the Atlanta Falcons, according to Pro Football Reference.
He passed four others along the way in the season finale, including one of his predecessors. Ray Rice had 370 touches without a fumble for the Ravens in 2010. Le’Veon Bell did it on 373 touches for the Steelers in 2014. Barry Sanders and La’Dainian Tomlinson both had 375 touches, in 1994 and 2007, respectively, without coughing up the ball.
They all now rank behind Harris for one of the greatest ball-control seasons in the history of the game, and the best mark ever by a rookie. Saquon Barkley recorded 352 touches as a rookie for the New York Giants in 2018, the previous best rookie mark. Anthony Thomas in 2001 is the only other rookie to have had at least 300 touches without a fumble.
There were so many qualities that endeared Harris to the Steelers coming out of Alabama. He has lived up to virtually every expectation that they have had of him, even as a rookie, setting new team rookie record for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage along the way.
He also hardly ever came off the field as long as he was physically able to play. He logged at least 75 percent of the snaps in 14 of 17 games this year. He played 90 percent of the snaps or more in seven games, including 100 percent of the snaps twice.
He finishes his rookie season with 307 carries for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns, in addition to 74 receptions for 467 yards and three more touchdowns. His 74 receptions is also a rookie record, the previous mark being 62.
And now he has a postseason game to prepare for—most likely. As long as the Las Vegas Raiders and the Los Angeles Chargers do not tie in tonight’s game, the Steelers will be playing next week, against the number two seed.