Najee Harris, T.J. Watt Rank Highly In Cynthia Frelund’s Win Share Projection Model

Cynthia Frelund, NFL Network’s analytics expert, created a metric called WIN SHARE to measure contributions built around how many times an offensive player “impacts first downs and touchdowns that lead to wins or losses, either by creating first downs and touchdowns on offense or by preventing them on defense.” In an article published today, Frelund broke down which players will lead the NFL in the win share metric in 2022. From the Pittsburgh Steelers, both running back Najee Harris and outside linebacker T.J. Watt made the list.

Harris was ranked as the fifth-highest non-quarterback offensive player, behind Titans running back Derrick Henry, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

Harris’ projected win share is 2.17 wins, and Frelund writes that a revamped offense will provide more opportunities for the second-year running back.

“Harris played 83.5 percent of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps last season, per NGS [Next Gen Stats], which was the highest percentage for any RB in 2021. Harris led the NFL with 179 rush attempts against six or fewer defenders in the box, but averaged just 4.2 yards per rush in large part because defenses used formations that anticipated short-area gains (short passes or runs) without explicitly loading the box,” Frelund wrote.

“This season, Harris ‘ upside projection banks on the fact that an increase in intermediate and deep passing plays should create significantly more space for him to operate in both the run and receiving aspects of his game. This will also give him more opportunities to reach full speed, driving a big uptick in overall production. More efficient complementary football means more yards per touch for Harris”

Despite Pittsburgh’s offensive line deficiency (Frelund noted her model doesn’t have them finishing inside the top 25), adding Mitch Trubisky to the offense along with other offensive playmakers like George Pickens should open up Pittsburgh’s passing attack. In his postgame press conference yesterday, Trubisky talked about wanting to open up Pittsburgh’s passing attack and be more aggressive, and if that’s the case, the opportunities will be there for Harris.

While a better passing attack opens up more opportunities because the defense can’t sell out to stop the run, Pittsburgh could also incorporate more play action and RPOs into their offense this year, which certainly could help Harris if Pittsburgh is keeping the defense on their toes. Besides Harris being a really talented running back, if Pittsburgh’s passing game improves, by default Harris might get more room to run.

Obviously, the offensive line being at least serviceable will play a big part in that, and right now I’m not sure they will be. Even so, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a super reliable backup behind Harris right now (although I’m hopeful Jaylen Warren can become that guy), so he’s going to get his touches. He’s going to be an impact player for this offense one way or another, and he’s probably going to be among the NFL leaders in touches and yards again.

Watt was ranked as the defensive player with the third-highest win shares, behind Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa. Watt is projected an identical 2.17 wins as Harris.

“Watt’s win share takes a small individual hit because Pittsburgh’s defensive front is stacked, which is obviously great for the Steelers overall. NGS shows that 37.5 percent of Watt’s pressures resulted in sacks last season, which was the third-highest rate in the NFL (min. 200 pass rush attempts). This helped drive his 22.5 sacks in 2021, which tied Michael Strahan’s single-season record. PFF shows that his 21.4 percent pass-rush win rate ranked fourth (among 108 qualified edges),” Frelund wrote.

Watt being penalized because of how good Pittsburgh’s defense is shows some of the imperfections of metrics like this. Since it strictly accounts for one player’s contribution out of 11, Watt will get dinged because guys like Cam Heyward, Alex Highsmith and others are capable of stepping up and making plays.

Regardless, Watt’s still ranked high and he’s still the most important player on the Steelers’ defense. He has a good chance of leading the NFL in sacks again (although Frelund’s model favors Bosa), and I wouldn’t be shocked if he was able to break the sack record instead of tying it. Watt’s going to push for another Defensive Player of The Year award, and his contributions to the defense will probably be worth a lot more than 2ish wins for the Steelers.

Let us know in the comments what you think about where both Watt and Harris ended up and what you think they’re going to contribute to the 2022 Steelers.

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