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Film Room: Jaylen Warren’s Versatility Continues to Shine

The Steelers’ 2021 first-round running back, Najee Harris, stole the show on the ground Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens, going over the century mark for the first time this season and catching the game-winning touchdown to boot. However, his fellow running mate, Jaylen Warren, had a career day in his own right, tacking on 76 yards of his own on the ground (a career-high) and adding another 22 yards through the air. While he wasn’t able to cross the century mark for total yards, 98 scrimmage yards were still also a career-high for him, topping his previous high of 77 scrimmage yards in a Week 10 win over the New Orleans Saints.

His performance did not go unnoticed by former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stating on his ‘Footbahlin’ podcast that “[Warren] is doing great. It’s a great one-two punch, a great combination.”

It’s hard to disagree with Roethlisberger. While both Warren and Harris run mean in their own right, the quick slashing style of Warren adds the perfect element to this offense that you look for in a change of pace back.

That proved fruitful for the Steelers in week 17. Warren was able to pick up first downs on six of his 15 (40%) touches, two of those being key third-down conversions on drives that ended in field goals.

Let’s take a deeper look at Warren’s career day.

Film Breakdown

A big reason why Warren is so effective is that he mostly plays with one speed, but because he’s so compact, he’s able to bounce off tacklers.

Once he sees a sliver of daylight, he’s hitting it hard. It might not always be the 100% right hole, but because he hits it at top speed it usually works out for him.

In this first clip, Kevin Dotson and Mason Cole get a great push off the line to the left, but Warren toys with the Ravens’ middle linebacker here. By cutting back he runs the MLB right into Chukwuma Okorafor working up to the second level on a combo block. Then, he runs through an arm tackle and keeps his legs churning for an extra five yards.

As I previously mentioned, Warren’s burst adds something to this offense that Harris doesn’t.  While Warren gets a fantastic block from Gunner Olszewski, taking out three Ravens, he still has the speed to wind this thing around the edge and up the sideline. His quick fake inside helps him gain another 10 or so yards.

When I saw this angle I was a bit surprised that the Ravens didn’t challenge Warren possibly stepping out right at the first down marker. But going back to the TV replays, they have a clear shot that Warren did indeed stay in bounds.

It may have been a bit more lucky than good here from Warren, but props to him have the ankle flexion to stay in the green and explode further upfield.

While his 76 yards rushing, 31 of those on his jet sweep above, were impressive, his work in the passing game may have been even better.

He’s become very reliable in this part of his game, finding open grass to sit in and get in the view of quarterback Kenny Pickett.

He looks to be further setting up defenders on these checkdowns too, trying to work inside so he can cut across the grain and use defenders’ forward momentum against them as soon as he catches the ball. Personally, I love the way he catches the ball away from his body. It comes naturally to him. Both throws were high, but with the one going left to right on the clip above, he has to jump up, fully extended, to make the grab. Not a catch you usually see from a running back.

Here’s another 3rd down catch from Warren. There’s not much special about this route or catch, but again his burst is what wins him this rep. As soon as he secures the ball, watch as his right foot explodes off the turf and upfield. They needed four and Warren got them six.

If I had a complaint about Najee Harris, it would be about his hesitation to get upfield after catching the ball with his back to the defense. It’s significantly slower than Warren and it’s the key to winning the rep above.

What would a Jaylen Warren film room be without some pass protection clips?

This first clip got me really excited to see. Warren is assigned to Ravens’ middle linebacker, Patrick Queen (#6), in this blocking scheme. He steps up with Queen and quickly diagnoses that he’s bluffing and dropping into coverage. So, Warren decides he’ll look for work and gives a nice chip to edge rusher, Justin Houston, before working out to the flat. This guy craves contact.

The final clip of this article made me believe that Warren may be starting to get a bit of a reputation around the league for smacking people in the chin when it comes to pass pro. You put it on tape a few times and people start to take notice.

Ravens superstar linebacker, Roquan Smith, decides to try to sidestep Warren instead of taking him head-on with a bullrush. Warren easily retraces, keeping square, and eats up Smith for the win.

Conclusion

It’s always fun to take a closer look at Warren’s tape because of the variety he brings. He’s not just a complete football player, he’s a Steelers football player. It seems as if Pittsburgh has been doing a decent job this past year accumulating guys that fit his mold. They seem to love the game, know their role and aren’t afraid to get in your face. Honestly, they look like bullies on the football field.

You can feel a culture shift happening with this team. They’re slowly transforming into a team that will hit you in the mouth for 60 minutes and guys like Warren are going to be a big part of upholding that type of culture. While it’s highly unlikely Warren will be challenging Harris for the top RB on this team anytime soon, his role of keeping Harris fresh while still being a highly effective back is an important one. If their “one-two punch” can help this offense continue its upward trajectory while putting more points on the scoreboard, this offense will be one to fully look forward to into the 2023 season.

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