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‘Is Najee Harris Really That Guy?’ Analyst Greg Cosell Unsure Of Steelers’ Starting RB

Najee Harris is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting running back. But analyst Greg Cosell isn’t sure if Harris truly is the team’s runner of the future. Recently appearing on the Ross Tucker Podcast, Cosell offered his thoughts on if Harris can be the bellcow of the Steelers’ offense.

“I think they want the run game to be the foundation,” Cosell told Tucker. “That’s another question. Is Najee Harris really that guy? We know he can carry the ball a lot. The question becomes production, you can give him volume? Can he be that guy that keeps your offense on schedule and stays ahead of the sticks? I still think that’s an open question.”

At 6’1, 240 pounds, Harris has rare size that makes him capable of shouldering the load. As a rookie, he carried the ball 307 times and touched it on 381 snaps, the latter leading the league as Harris set the franchise record for most receptions by a rookie (74). More than arguably any other team, Pittsburgh likes their backs to have size and power. Rashard Mendenhall. Le’Veon Bell. James Conner. And now Harris. Pedigree players who were “first person off the bus” types in high school.

But efficiency has been Harris’ issue. As a rookie, he averaged 3.9 yards per carry. In 2022, though his volume decreased, so did his average, dropping to 3.8. Through two seasons, he has 579 rushing attempts and averaging just 3.9 YPC. Since 2010, he’s just one of a handful of backs in the league with 550+ career carries and less than four yards per rush, joining an uninspiring list of names like Peyton Barber, Mike Davis, Alfred Blue, and Trent Richardson.

In fairness, Harris has run behind an offensive line renovated over the last two years. In 2021, they were awful. In 2022, they got off to a bumpy start before improving post-bye. Harris also dealt with a foot injury this summer that lingered into the regular season and he didn’t look fully healthy until Week 10. Over the second half of the season, he averaged a more respectable 4.1 yards per carry compared to just 3.3 prior to the bye.

It’s not the first time Cosell has mused about Harris’ chops as a starting back in the league. In early October, he made headlines by calling him a “pedestrian” back who lacked explosiveness. 

“I think Najee Harris is kind of a pedestrian NFL back. He’s big, he’s powerful, but he doesn’t have any juice.”

A lack of explosive plays is one of the most common critiques of Harris’ game. He had just 20 rushes of 10+ yards this season, a wholly average number that ranked behind Khalil Herbert, Jeff Wilson, heck, QB Daniel Jones had more. Harris had just one run of 20+ yards this season and over his first two years, has only seven. That makes up just 1.2% of his total carries. Compare that to the likes of other first-round backs in Jonathan Taylor (3.6%), Dalvin Cook (2.7%), and Saquon Barkley (2.6%). Big plays have never been part of Harris’ game and that doesn’t figure to change.

The good news is the Steelers are putting less of the volume on Harris. With Jaylen Warren’s emergence, the Steelers have two capable running backs for the first time since Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams and this time, they’re willing to use Warren more than Williams. It’s kept Harris fresh and energized and made the offense less reliant on a singular back, protecting themselves against injury. Still, Harris at least touching four yards per carry in 2023 should be the goal and with the offense improving, really needs to be the expectation.

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