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Buy Or Sell: Najee Harris Will Top 400 Touches In 2022

With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?

These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).

Topic Statement: Najee Harris will top 400 touches in 2022.

Explanation: The Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin believe in having a bell-cow back, and they have one in Najee Harris, who led the league in touches last year with 381. He is both a volume runner and a volume receiver, and given more stable usage rates, he could track toward hitting 400 touches.

Buy:

Here’s the thing: while 400-touch seasons may now be rare, the Steelers are one of few teams to actually have one in the past decade and a half. Le’Veon Bell his 406 touches in 2017 with 321 rushes and 85 receptions. And like Bell, the second-year back enjoys, even welcomes, the workload. At least, he does for now, but unlike Bell, I don’t think his attitude is going to wax and wane based on what best suits his ambitions at the time.

Those aren’t unrealistic numbers for Harris, who, minus the season finale in which he was injured, was averaging 20 attempts per game in his final five games (rushing for 464 yards on 100 carries for a 4.64-yard average and two touchdowns). He also had 18 receptions in that span for 118 total touches in a five-game span. That’s 23.6 touches per game, which, over a 17-game season, eclipses the 400-touch mark.

Sell:

No player had recorded 400 or more touches since Christian McCaffrey in 2019, and only three players have done it in the past decade. Derrick Henry hasn’t even done it before, and nobody runs the ball more than he does. While Harris might have a bigger receiving role, that’s a big gap to bridge between their rushing touches.

Harris played all 17 games last season and still fell short of 400 touches, with little in the way of injuries preventing that. And the coaches and Harris are already on record acknowledging that they want to scale back his workload. The odds of him staying as healthy as he did last year while also expanding his workload are probably low. The fact of the matter is that 400-touch seasons are justifiably rare today, even if they were fairly common up to the mid-2000s.

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