During an up-and-down rookie season that certainly saw him deal with some trials and tribulations, Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Najee Harris was the only running back in the NFL to over 70% of his team’s offensive snaps (83%), and one of just five running backs who cleared the 60% threshold for his team.
Harris was a true workhorse overall, and helped create at a promising clip overall.
Knowing all that, it’s a bit strange to see Harris ranked outside of the top 10 running backs in the NFL heading into the 2022 regular season by Pro Football Focus. Of course, there could be some bias there from PFF after Harris went scorched earth on the Cincinnati outlet last week, but it’s still strange to see Harris outside the top 10, especially behind some of the names he trails in the rankings.
According to PFF’s Ben Linsley, Harris comes in at No. 11 in the RB rankings, slotting inside Tier 4, which features elusive running backs still on their rookie contracts.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 4, 2022
Harris’ efficiency numbers from last season aren’t as impressive as some of the other names around him on this list, but it’s reasonable to expect efficiency to decline when you’re on the field for nearly every snap and playing in one of the NFL’s least efficient offenses,” Linsey writes. “The Steelers offense asked a lot of Harris as a rookie, and he largely made the most of a bad situation. Harris ranked third at the position in PFF WAR and forced more combined missed tackles as a rusher and receiver (92) than any other player in the NFL. Hopefully he won’t be asked to force quite as many in 2022 in a Steelers offense that invested in improvements in both free agency and the draft this offseason.”
The Steelers’ offense asked Harris to do far too much last season, especially behind a well-below league average offensive line that was very poor in the run game overall. Harris, to his credit, played hard all season and forced a number of missed tackles, leading the league — according to PFF — in forced missed tackles on runs and receptions combined, recording 92 as a rookie.
The next closest was Indianapolis Colts’ All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor with 75.
Most combined missed tackles forced as a runner and receiver last season
Najee Harris: 92
Jonathan Taylor: 75
Javonte Williams: 71 pic.twitter.com/fiovz40thc
— Ben Linsey (@PFF_Linsey) May 16, 2022
According to Linsey’s rankings, Harris slots in behind the likes of Los Angeles Chargers’ star Austin Ekeler, New Orleans Saints’ running back Alvin Kamara, Green Bay Packers’ running back Aaron Jones, Cincinnati Bengals’ star Joe Mixon, and even Las Vegas Raiders’ running back Josh Jacobs in the RB tiers overall.
While it’s understandable to see him slotted in behind the likes of Mixon and even Kamara, placing him behind Ekeler, Jones and even Jacobs is rather absurd to see. Jones is a dynamic dual-threat running back, as is Ekeler, but neither compares to Harris when it comes to elusiveness or being a workhorse overall.
Jacobs slotting above Harris also sums up exactly what PFF is all about. Jacobs is second in the league in forced missed tackles since 2019 (177) behind Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, but Jacobs didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up and has been slowly phased out in Las Vegas. He’s not even a top 15 running back in football for my money, let alone a top 10 guy.
Harris will be out to prove the doubters wrong again in 2022, and should be able to produce at a higher level now that the Steelers’ offensive line has made some improvements, especially on the interior with veterans Mason Cole and James Daniels, as well as a healthy Kevin Dotson.