As OTAs and mandatory minicamp come to a close and the dead of summer rolls in, news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers from an on-the-field standpoint appears to be coming to a screeching halt until training camp gets underway when players report July 26 to Latrobe, PA. While there will still be news about Steelers players, coaches, and front office executives swirling around here-and-there, the constant stream of stories like we have had the last several weeks won’t be the same until the 2022 season kicks off late next month.
Because of this, I, along with many avid fantasy football fans, will be brushing up and building our respective draft strategies for this year’s upcoming fantasy football season. Along with being a religious listener to The Terrible Podcast with Dave and Alex, I also have been faithfully following the Fantasy Footballers Podcast for the last several years, listening to the analysis and insight provided by show hosts Andy Holloway, Jason Moore, and Mike Wright.
In their most recent edition of the podcast which is also featured on YouTube, the three hosts address the recent news of Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris and the comments that he may see a reduced workload this season compared to 2021.
“That certainly wasn’t the case last year,” Andy Holloway said regarding Najee’s comments about playing on certain downs in a previous interview during mandatory minicamp. “All of the downs were Najee’s”
Holloway would be correct in saying that most of the downs on offense belonged to Harris last season in his rookie year as running back from Alabama played 980 (84%) of offensive snaps during the regular season, and likely would have seen more work if it wasn’t for an elbow injury suffered at the end of the season that caused him to exit the Week 18 matchup against the Ravens for a period of time.
“We are lower on him than the consensus of industry experts, and that’s before any of this news and what can be that non-news about his playing weight,” Holloway continues when speaking on Najee’s fantasy value heading into 2022.
The reason why the Fantasy Footballers have been lower on Najee than the rest of the fantasy football industry has to do with his lack of efficiency in the running game as Harris only averaged a meager 3.9 YPC last season on 307 carries, totaling 1,200 rushing yards. On top of being a poor runner in terms of efficiency Harris also struggled to rip off explosive runs, struggling to get anything going in that area until he ripped of a game-sealing 37-yard TD run to beat the Browns in Week 17.
Along with Najee’s lack of big plays, The Fantasy Footballers also expect Najee’s passing game volume to drop as well with Ben Roethlisberger no longer dinking and dunking his way down the field.
“Najee said that he was going to lose a little bit of work on some downs and that he completely understands it, but he also said that we’re still talking about it,” Jason Moore said regarding Najee Harris and his comments to the media. “When push comes to shove, I think he’s going to be on the field more often than not, but we were down on Najee before this solely because Mitchell Trubisky can run. Kenny Pickett can run. Whoever is a quarterback will look like greased lightning compared to Ben Roethlisberger who gets the ball and checks it down immediately. That’s not going to happen for Najee.”
After watching Harris set the single-season rookie record for receptions in Steelers history last year, it can be wise to project his overall usage in the passing game to decrease, especially with the additions of George Pickens and Calvin Austin III this offseason. As far as Najee goes as the check down option for Ben, the concern is warranted. All you must do is go back to the Steelers’ first matchup against the Bengals where Harris caught 14 passes on 19 targets as Ben looked the check the ball down as much as he could, given Najee Harris fantasy owners easy PPR points in their respective matchups.
Still, while Harris’ passing game work may see a little bit of a decrease, it wouldn’t be fair to expect to crater altogether with either Trubisky or Pickett in the fold. While both QBs are far more mobile than Ben, Harris has proven to be a skilled pass catcher dating back to his time at Alabama and Trubisky did heavily target the likes of David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen when in Chicago as more of a short ADOT passer himself thus far in his NFL career. The Pitt Panther running backs combined for 55 receptions in 2021, equating to a little over 16% of Pickett’s completions in his final college season according to Sports Reference.
While Andy and Jason had their issues with Najee and his reliably on sheer volume for fantasy success, Mike Wright made sure to state that less snaps don’t necessarily mean less of an impact.
“Just because you are saying some reduced snaps, that doesn’t necessarily mean a reduced workload,” Mike Wright interjected. “You can have some downs where you know the running back is just pass protecting here or the running isn’t really involved in this play design.”
Wright has a point here as there were several occasions where Pittsburgh would bring in Benny Snell Jr. last season on plays worth low-value touches or on obvious passing downs where Snell was asked to stay in and pass protect, giving Harris a much-needed rest. Potentially playing fewer overall snaps could help Harris stay fresh throughout the game, possibly allowing him to run with better efficiency and rip off a few more long runs than he did last year when he virtually never left the field for Pittsburgh.
The concerns with Najee Harris as a fantasy player coming into 2022 are warranted as he isn’t a dynamic back that is going to hit the home run often. However, in fantasy football, volume is king, and Harris has that in spades. Even if his usage dips a little, he is still one of the rare workhorse backs in the league, which has been a constant under HC Mike Tomlin since he arrived in Pittsburgh. The Steelers didn’t draft Najee Harris in the first round to have him sit the bench or see only 60% of snaps, so if he is healthy, expect him to be out there most of the time and be a steady contributor for your fantasy rosters again in 2022.