Who doesn’t like some good old bold predictions? Well, a majority of people I would imagine. Bold predictions often come off as unbelievable and too optimistic because they are just that: bold. A bold prediction isn’t a likely scenario to occur, hence why it can be considered bold. While having some optimism for a breakout season for a certain player can be fair on occasion, there are plenty of media personalities that often come off as too brash with the sense that every player they talk about has a chance to break out.
Recently, Sports Illustrated posted an article highlighting 100 bold predictions for the 2022 NFL season. To me, 100 comes off as an egregious number of bold predictions. However, nestled in at #21 on the list was a prediction regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers that brings to question a possibly feasible scenario to consider. Connor Orr of SI stated that Steelers RB Najee Harris will lead the NFL in rushing next season, providing the following as his reasoning:
“The Steelers’ first-round pick from 2020 had a solid rookie campaign considering Pittsburgh’s punchless offense. With Kenny Pickett operating an equally conservative but more movement-oriented offense, Harris will benefit.”
Not a lot to go off here from Orr’s explanation, but let’s dive into the plausibility and probability of his prediction coming to fruition.
Last season, Harris finished fourth in the league in rushing yards, tallying 1,200 while playing in all 17 games. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor led the way at the running back position, rushing for 1,811 yards while also appearing in 17 games. In between Taylor and Harris were Browns RB Nick Chubb with 1,259 yards in 14 games and Bengals RB Joe Mixon with 1,205 yards in 16 games played. Taylor outpaced Harris in carries with 332 compared to 307 while Mixon fell just behind them at 292. Chubb was way behind the bunch with only 228 carries in 14 appearances, coming out to an impressive 5.5 YPC, which was the same YPC average for Taylor according to Pro Football Reference.
When considering the plausibility of Harris leading the league in rushing yards in 2022, the notion deserves some credit. After all, Harris is one of the very few workhorse backs in the NFL, playing 84% of the offensive snaps last season and accumulated 381 total touches during the regular season as a rookie. Given his heavy usage and workload, along with the fact that Pittsburgh invested into the interior OL this offseason with the additions of James Daniels and Mason Cole, who do their best work in the running game should improve Harris’ poor efficiency from last season where he only averaged 3.9 YPC. According to Dave Bryan’s tracking, Harris posted a 65.7% successful run rate in 2021.
Last season and prior to the playoffs, Najee Harris posted a successful run rate of 65.7%. #Steelers
1st down 40% yards needed
2nd down 50% yards needed
3rd & 4th down 100% yards needed
All runs of 6 yards or longer
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) May 12, 2021
Also, should the addition of Kenny Pickett (or Mitch Trubisky) open up more of the offense and keep defenses from stacking the box and playing close to the LOS like they did with Roethlisberger under center, Harris could see better efficiency as a runner and hopefully rip off more explosive runs like we saw in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns, like Orr references in his article.
— Sᴘᴏʀᴛs 24/7 (@Sports_24x7_) January 4, 2022
That’s the plausibility of Harris leading the NFL in rushing next season. What about the probability? Well, given his immense workload and the emphasis put on Pittsburgh to drastically improve the running game, Harris likely will see himself again in the top five in terms of rushing yards on the season in 2022. However, for him to take home the crown as the league’s leading rusher, Harris will have to spike his efficiency greatly compared to backs like Jonathan Taylor that average nearly 1.5 YPC more per touch than Harris. Part of that is due to offensive line play, but also the fact that Harris doesn’t possess that same home run ability Taylor has to take a carry 67 yards to the house.
JONATHAN TAYLOR LOSES EVERYONE AND TAKES IT 67 YARDS TO THE HOUSE 💨
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 19, 2021
We also must factor in that running backs like Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry all missed time in 2021 due to injuries, being backs that all rank near the top of the league in rushing yards if healthy. King Henry especially had the crown in sights last season, totaling 917 yards in only eight games played (117 YPG) before breaking his foot mid-season, knocking out of the rest of the regular season. Should Henry be healthy in 2022, chances are he or Taylor will be the betting favorite to take home the rushing crown thanks to workload as well as the ability to rip off explosive plays.
Thus, Najee Harris should be considered to have an outside shot at the rushing crown in 2022, but likely shouldn’t be considered a favorite due to lack of explosive play ability and the continued development of the offensive line. Again, injuries could play a factor in all of this, but much like the article states, Harris leading the league in rushing next season should be considered a “bold prediction” at this juncture.
What are your thoughts on the article and the possibly of Harris leading the league in rushing in 2022? Is it plausible and/or probable Harris could get it done? What factors do you see helping his case or potentially undermining him from accomplishing this feat? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!