Coaches have a job to do—a job they’re paid to do—and one that the title gives away. But that doesn’t mean that players don’t also learn from their fellow players. Indeed, it’s an integral part of any healthy team culture that younger, less experienced players learn from the older veterans.
That largely happens within position rooms, and coaches like to have veterans in every room around which the younger players can model their game. The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t really have that in the running back room, but they have that leader role in second-year Najee Harris, whose habits are wearing off on rookie Jaylen Warren.
“Him being a film junkie pushes me to be a film junkie”, he told Aditi Kinkhabwala yesterday on 93.7 The Fan, audio of which is not currently available as of the time of this writing. “I’ve watched more film this year than I’ve ever had”.
A college free agent out of Oklahoma State who also previously played for Utah St. and Snow College, Warren only got a couple of offers coming out of the draft, another being with the Green Bay Packers. He admitted that he primarily chose the Steelers because they offered more, and somewhat regrets not having paid more attention to other factors, but is grateful that things worked out the right way anyway.
Though not one of their draft picks, Warren has proven to be a staple of the Steelers’ rookie class of 2022, along with quarterback Kenny Pickett, wide receiver George Pickens, and to a lesser extent, defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, tight end Connor Heyward, and linebacker Mark Robinson.
He has played in every game in which he has been healthy, missing one due to injury, even logging 23 snaps in the season opener. Through 16 games, he has rushed for 343 yards on 71 attempts with one touchdown, and also has 207 receiving yards on 25 receptions for a total of 550 yards from scrimmage.
The last time that a number two back in Pittsburgh had at least 500 yards from scrimmage was in 2015, and that requires a substantial asterisk since DeAngelo Williams started the season as the number two back but played most of the year as a starter after Le’Veon Bell (who had nearly 700 yards from scrimmage in six games) went down with a season-ending injury.
If we don’t include Williams, then we have to go back to 2012 for the last time multiple backs had 500-plus yards from scrimmage, and, again, that’s a bit of an asterisk. They didn’t have an outright starter that year, with both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman operating with the ‘hot hand’ method.
Redman the year before in 2011 was the last time that a true number two back behind a clearly defined starter gained at least 500 yards from scrimmage, gaining 557 yards on 128 touches behind Rashard Mendenhall, who totaled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage that season.
Of course, it used to be commonplace for number two backs to get a larger workload. The Steelers had three backs gain 500-plus yards in 2001. But that hasn’t been the norm in Pittsburgh for some time. Warren is by far the most noteworthy number two back the team has had since Williams, and even then, Williams wasn’t being given the volume outside of injury that Warren is seeing.