On Wednesday morning, Steelers.com released a video interview conducted by Missi Matthews with RB Coach Eddie Faulkner during the second week of OTAs. Faulkner had the privilege of getting first round RB Najee Harris in last year’s draft prior to the start of the 2021 campaign, hoping the investment at the RB position would help bolster a poor Steelers rushing attack from the previous season. When asked about Harris and his rookie season by Matthews, Faulkner commended the rusher’s efforts in his first year in the Black and Gold.
“I think he had a great rookie season in terms of production,” Faulkner responded to Matthews when asked about Harris’s rookie year. “You know, he was available pretty much the whole season, was an ironman in the number of reps that he took, but there are some things that he has to improve on, obviously.”
Harris did stand out in terms of production and workload at the running back position in 2021, ranking fourth in the NFL with 1,200 rushing yards while receiving 307 carries during the regular season. Add in his Steelers rookie record 74 receptions, Harris totaled 381 touches during his first season in Pittsburgh along with another 14 touches in the AFC Wildcard Playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Harris shouldered the load for the Steelers run game last season, being the definition of a “workhorse” back, ranking second to only Colts RB Jonathan Taylor in carries and played 84% of the snaps (980). Harris would have likely logged even more snaps had it not been for an elbow injury in the season finale against Baltimore.
However, while Harris enjoyed a strong rookie campaign, Faulkner mentioned above that there are a couple things that he wants to see him improve on as he heads into Year Two.
“One thing in particular we have been working hard on is pad level and pass protection,” Faulkner continues. “The great thing about Najee is that he is willing to whatever he needs to do and work to correct those things.”
Standing nearly 6’2 and reportedly 244lb, Harris tends to be a large, big target for defenders to hit when running the football. In order the manage the impact of the those hits sustained on contact and avoid taken unnecessary punishment on the body, playing with more consistent pad level would benefit Harris greatly who took a beating at times last season.
In terms of Harris’s pass protection, he represented himself well considering he was a rookie walking into a situation where he hardly came off the field. However, there are always things that can be picked up after watching tape when reflecting back on the previous season as one prepared for the season ahead and knowing the type of player that Harris is and his pursuit of always looking to improve, Faulkner takes pride in having a talented, hard working player like him in his position room.
“He makes it easy,” Faulkner includes about coaching Harris in 2021.
When asked by Matthews if he noticed any changes in Najee’s body heading into his second season, Faulkner wasn’t shy to share his thoughts on the ever-growing topic of Najee Harris and his weight/shape.
“I think so. I mean he is already looking great,” Faulkner responds. “He’s a training fool. That’s just who he is. He’s going to do whatever detail it takes to get his body in elite shape. You don’t have to worry about that with him, and clearly you can see he’s been working.”
There was much stir yesterday on social media regarding the topic of Harris and his weight as the narrative was painted that his weight jumped 12lb from last season where he was listed at 232lb. This led to cause for concern that Harris was taking after another former Alabama RB in Eddie Lacy who struggled to keep his weight in-check which ultimately led to him falling out of the league entirely. However, Harris was quick to clear the air, stating that he actually played most of the 2021 season at 240lb.
While Harris has reportedly added another four pounds since last season when the long history of Pittsburgh Steelers RBs has been to drop weight going from Year One to Year Two in the league, Faulkner agrees that Harris’s weight gain should be seen as a bad thing. Just from looking at his impressive legs and athletic frame, the weight he may have added has to be good weight coming from a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He may not be getting leaner or faster with the added bulking, but this has never been Harris’s game anyway as he tends to be more of a bruising-style back that is meant to shoulder a heavy workload in-between the tackles and win with short area quickness.
Given Faulkner’s praise of Harris and his continued work ethic to improve his deficiencies as well as his dedication to his body and conditioning, we should likely expect Harris to pick up where he left off in 2021 and have a strong season in 2022.