Somehow, after leading the league in forced missed tackles combined on carries and catches as a rookie for the Pittsburgh Steelers, second-year running back Najee Harris ranks near the bottom of the league in the latest elusive RB rankings from Pro Football Focus, which dropped Wednesday morning from analyst Bryant Horn.
Harris was a force in 2021 as a rookie, touching the football 381 times, gaining 1,667 yards on the year with 10 total touchdowns. According to my own personal tracking, Harris forced 99 missed tackles in the 2021 season, averaging just under six forced misses per game. According to PFF’s Ben Linsey, Harris forced 92 total missed tackles as a runner and receiver last season, staying in line with my own tracking overall.
So, knowing how those numbers looked from my own data and PFF’s data, it was very puzzling to see Harris ranked 22nd in PFF’s elusive RB rankings Wednesday, with PFF’s Horn giving Harris credit for just 57 forced missed tackles, cutting out nearly half of his forced missed as they came on catches instead of carries.
PFF used the average number of forced misses per attempt to rank the running backs, placing Harris 22nd in the league at 0.186 forced misses per attempt. Seems pretty low for the guy who legitimately led the league in forced missed tackles as rookie, but I guess those are PFF’s metrics.
HIs 0.186 forced misses per attempt slotted him in between Buffalo’s Zach Moss (T-19th, 0.188) and New England’s Damien Harris (23rd, 0.183).
“Harris, a 2021 rookie out of Alabama, has already proven capable of handling a bell-cow role for Pittsburgh,” Horn writes regarding Harris’s rankings. “His 307 carries last season were the second-most in the league. He forced 57 missed tackles and tallied 913 of his 1,200 yards after contact, the latter of which ranked seventh. He tied for second with 52 first downs and found the endzone seven times — not bad for an upcoming sophomore.”
Take frustrations with the fact that Harris isn’t a home run threat with the football in his hands, or won’t consistently provide splash plays of the 20+ yard variety. All of that is fair. But ranking him so low in the elusive category based on just rushing attempts is absolutely absurd from PFF and takes away a huge component of Harris’s game as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
As Lindsey pointed out, nobody came close to Harris in forced missed tackles on runs and catches. The argument could be made that he had nearly 400 attempts so of course that number would be high. The next-closest back in forced missed tackles on runs and catches was MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor of the Colts. He touched the football just nine less times than Harris, so throw that argument out the window.
Harris is an absolute force with the football in his hands, one that is very hard to corral and wrestle to the turf on a consistent basis with just one or two defenders. He might not be elusive in the same breath as a Christian McCaffrey or a Saquon Barkley in terms of the highlight-reel moves in space. But there’s no denying he is arguably the most physical back in football, one that dishes out punishment at a jarring pace.