The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex earlier than they had anticipated, having been ousted before they even reached the postseason, which unfortunately marks the sixth consecutive season in which they failed to win a postseason game—tying their longest drought of the Super Bowl era. Yet again, they find themselves undergoing the exit meeting process earlier than anticipated, which means so are we.
The Steelers did arguably perform at or above expectations this year by going 9-8 and nearly making the postseason at all, a reflection of just how much talent they lost during the offseason, from Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Haden to most of their wide receiver room, not to mention Stephon Tuitt’s decision to retire.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between head coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2022 season.
Player: Najee Harris
Experience: 2 Years
Najee Harris’ 2022 season is undoubtedly a tale of two halves, one that ties neatly with the occurrence of the Steelers’ bye in Week 9. The first half of his season was defined by a Lisfranc foot injury that he suffered early in training camp. He played most of that first half of the season with a plate in his cleat to stabilize his foot, even if he downplayed its impact on his speed and mobility.
Another key factor in judging his season is the progression of the offensive line, which was clearly playing at a higher level in the second half of the year. But that doesn’t wholly account for his play. If you might recall, some were having sincere discussions about whether or not Jaylen Warren, a rookie college free agent with minimal touches at that point, should be starting over him.
Harris rushed for just 361 yards on 108 carries through the first eight games of the season, averaging 3.34 yards per rush attempt, with just one rushing touchdown. Importantly, his run success rate also mirrored his low per-rush efficiency numbers. He did have two receiving touchdowns on 24 receptions for 112 yards.
It was another story after the bye, however. He picked up 164 attempts, more than 18 per game, rushing for 673 yards at 4.1 yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns. Barely eclipsing four yards per carry is nothing remarkable, but it was a vast improvement, and also reflects a much healthier run success rate. He added another receiving touchdown to give him 10 scores in total on the year.
Aside from the injury and his season split, the biggest story for Harris this year was actually finding Warren as a legitimate complementary runner. That allowed him to drastically cut down on his playing time, dropping from 84% of the snaps played as a rookie to 66, with Warren taking a lot of the passing-downs situations where pass protection was the primary job.
The biggest difference between the first and second halves of the season, however, was not what numbers he put up but how he put them up, and that was visual. Yes, you can read yards after contact figures, but watching him play, with great physicality, told another story. If they can get that Najee Harris next season for 17 games with an improved offensive line, this should be a top-10 running game, even if it lacks dynamics.