Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: RB Najee Harris
Stock Value: Even
Reasoning: The second-year running back improved over the course of the second half of the season, but it would be hard to make the case that he ended the season a clearly better player than he was at the end of his rookie year.
NFL film analyst Greg Cosell has on multiple occasions called into question whether or not the Steelers have a top-level player at the running back position in Najee Harris. He most recently took the time to do so just a few weeks ago.
I don’t altogether oppose the nature of the question. Have we seen enough, consistently, over the span of a whole game, the span of several games, the span of a whole season, play a dominant brand of football on which the offense can rest its laurels?
I don’t think so. But that doesn’t mean that he lacks in any way from great plays. When healthy and ‘on’, Harris can be almost the most physical runners in the game. He also has the ability to be surprisingly elusive in tight spaces for a back of his size.
Nevermind the fact that he does possess a complete all-around skillset in every facet in which the running back position could be asked to contribute. He has that, and we’ve known it from fairly early on in his rookie season.
But the perception had been that this is going to morph into something resembling a run-first offense. The problem is that, up to this point, Harris’ brand of football has left little margin for error. As long as the machine keeps churning, they can drive down the field in dribs and drabs. But occasionally you’re going to need to get out to the second and third level with a difference-making play.
The fact that he played through a significant foot injury for much of the season obviously can’t be ignored. Perhaps he was never even fully healthy. The status of the offensive line was called into question for most of the year as well. These are all valid points.
It’s entirely plausible that Harris takes his game to another level next year with greater play-to-play consistency and a greater aptitude for escaping tackle attempts in the box to enable him to break off some long runs. But by the end of his second season, I don’t know that we know anything more about him than we did a year ago at this time.