Steelers RB Najee Harris made the most out of a bleak situation as a rookie last season. Joining a pop-gun offense with Ben Roethlisberger throwing passes at or near the LOS a majority of the time and an offensive line that struggled mightily the entire year to have any sort of consistency in terms of opening running lanes and keeping pressure from the QB, Harris took on the workhorse role and ran with it. Playing in all 17 games and 84% of the offensive snaps, Harris totaled 307 carries for 1,200 yards (3.9 YPC) and seven rushing TDs along with 74 receptions for 467 yards and three TDs, totaling 381 touches for 1,667 yards.
Given the fact that Pittsburgh has added FAs James Daniels and Mason Cole to help stabilize the offensive line along with having Kevin Dotson hopefully healthy a majority of the season unlike last year, one would figure that Harris show be more efficient and effective as a runner this season. Should he manage those two things and continue to serve as the team’s workhorse back, you would think he should have the volume and production to be considered one of the best RBs when it comes to fantasy football.
Apparently not, I guess.
Recently, the FantasyPros staff published an article highlighting four RBs to avoid this season. To somewhat of a surprise, they decided to list Harris as one of them that you should pass on in 2022 due to one key reason: his opportunity as a pass catcher.
“The volume role in the passing game included seeing the most targets (94) and most receptions (74) and was key to his valuable fantasy contributions. It’s doubtful that the former Alabama RB will see that many check-down receptions now that Roethlisberger is not behind center. Asking Harris to improve on his rookie season is a lot to ask. He will see a significant drop in the passing game, with Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett leading the Steelers’ offense. His RB6 ADP is drafting Harris at his ceiling based upon a similar pass-game workload. Harris is overvalued and won’t reach the current draft capital level until the Steelers’ run blocking improves, and Harris becomes more efficient as a runner.”
I do understand the concern with Harris in terms of his pass game involvement this upcoming season. Pittsburgh figures to go to a more run-heavy approach this season with Roethlisberger no longer at the helm of the offense and likely either Trubisky or Pickett taking the reins. Given the fact that the overall pass attempts-per-game figures to decrease as well as the likelihood that either QB will be more apt to push the ball further down the field or simply scramble for yards themselves rather than check it down to the RB like Ben did, there is room for concern as to how involved Harris will be as a pass catcher.
I noted as much in my recent stat projections for Najee Harris in 2022, noting that his targets, receptions, and yards will likely drop this season compared to his rookie year, where he broke the single-season Steelers’ rookie reception mark with 74 receptions. Still, while I expect Harris to see less overall volume in the passing game, I would expect for him to make up for it with increased usage and efficiency as a runner.
FantasyPros pointed to Harris’s poor yards-per-carry average in 2021 along with the erratic play of his offensive line being causes for concern this season. Still, as mentioned above, the additions of Daniels and Cole to the starting lineup may take Pittsburgh into the top ten rushing offenses but should be able to take them out of the cellar of 29th overall, providing more consistent play than Kendrick Green and Trai Tuner did last year. Along with Dotson back from an injury-plagued season and Dan Moore Jr. in Year Two, the talent upfront should allow Harris more success as a runner along with the fact that defenses may have to play more honest in 2022 and not crowd the LOS due to a pop-gun passing game.
Even factoring a decrease in overall passing down work, Harris still figures to see well over 300 carries. If his efficiency rises just slightly on that volume, he could easily push for over 1,300 rushing yards and over 1,700 total yards from scrimmage if he stays healthy. The volume figures to be there with Najee Harris as well as the total yards. While he may not have that game-breaking speed to propel himself to a dynamic season in fantasy football, he figures to be one of the safest options at the position, making him more of a player to target in the first round than a player to avoid.