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Jaylen Warren’s Success Somewhat Situational, Says Matt Canada

Last year, Najee Harris was the rookie running back Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans were raving about. This year, it’s Jaylen Warren. Two different players from two different paths. Harris the top-recruit, the Power 5 starter, the first round pick. Warren the JUCO kid, bouncing to different schools, going the undrafted route.

On paper, the stats say Warren is having the better season with a rushing average that draws Harris’ numbers, 5.3 versus 3.3 Warren’s role was rightfully increased in recent weeks, taking over third down duties and playing on obvious passing downs. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, OC Matt Canada explained situational play is one reason why Warren’s numbers look better.

“Some of it is situational,” he said in a transcript provided by the team. “He’s been in more third downs with some of those things. With the way the picture is, the box and some of those things are situational, and also how many players are in there to tackle you. He’s been seeing more success with yards per carry, that’s part of it.”

To a degree, Warren has been able to pad his stats with third down runs and garbage time numbers. He’s had several third down draw runs this year and replaced Harris late in blowouts against the Buffalo Bills and the Philadelphia Eagles, situations where the defense is playing loose and allowing the run.

But we like checking narratives and so we’ve crunched the numbers. Discounting “garbage time” runs and third-and-long situations, Warren has carried the ball 24 times for 107 yards. That works out to 4.5 yards per carry, still more than a full yard better than Harris’ figure.

Canada also pointed to Warren’s good health as a reason why he’s been more productive.

“Najee came out of camp and was getting going and getting himself back to full speed.”

Harris suffered a foot sprain early in camp and played with a steel plate in his toe until a few weeks ago. Still, there’s no denying Warren’s North/South running style is the better fit behind the Steelers’ mediocre run blocking. Without a run game, Pittsburgh’s offense doesn’t have much of a chance and Warren’s role could continue to tick up. He’s already largely reduced Harris to a 1st and 2nd down back and could chip into those snaps throughout the rest of the season.

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