Najee Harris Ranked 14th-Best Starting RB Of 2022

Over on, Maurice Jones-Drew released his final running back rankings for the 75 players who started at least one game this season. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there was only one name on the list, Najee Harris coming in 14th overall. Explaining his slot, MJD wrote:

“While rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett acclimated to the NFL game, Harris was the steady presence Mike Tomlin’s group needed. The second-year running back has recorded 1,000-plus rushing yards in each of his first two seasons.”

Not exactly a ton of detailed notes and analyses there. But Jones-Drew is correct in saying the team needed Harris even more than last year as their second-half turnaround was supported by a heavy dose of the run game. From Week 10 through the end of the season, no team ran the ball as much as the Steelers’ 310 attempts. In fact, the Dallas Cowboys were the only other team to even reach 300 carries. For Pittsburgh, it was a stark contrast; from Weeks 1 through 8, they ranked 19th with 190 rushing attempts.

Of course, there’s a correlation there and the Steelers playing in more competitive games as opposed to being blown out as they were against the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. But a more efficient ground game in the second half of the season kept scores down, reduced turnovers, and allowed Pittsburgh to grind out drives. No team in the league had more 10+ play drives than the Steelers did in 2022.

Harris finished his sophomore season with 272 carries for 1034 yards and seven touchdowns. Production didn’t match what he did as a rookie but he also battled through a toe injury from essentially the start of the summer, hurt during the first day in pads and he never got healthy until after the bye. Over the second half of the year, Harris averaged nearly 75 yards per game (compared to 45 over his first eight) and had his only 100-yard game of the season, going for 111 in the team’s Week 17 win over Baltimore.

Overall, his receiving production was way down due to rookie Jaylen Warren’s increased role. Warren took over as the team’s third-down back in Week 5 and never looked back. His presence allowed Harris to play fresher and create a committee approach, a rarity under Mike Tomlin, but something that benefitted both players. Warren is a Top-75 back in the league but didn’t make Jones-Drew’s list because he technically didn’t start a game all season. A weird way to create the list that left off the likes of Kansas City’s Jerrick McKinnon, Cleveland’s Kareem Hunt, and Minnesota’s Alexander Mattison.

Warren will enter 2023 as the handcuff to Harris and likely resume his third-down role while rotating in on early downs too in a 60/40 type of split.

Jones-Drew’s top-rated starter was San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey followed by Los Angeles’ Austin Ekeler. The top AFC North back was Cleveland’s Nick Chubb at #5. Bringing up the rear at #75 was Atlanta’s Damien Williams, who technically started Week 1 against New Orleans but was quickly lost to a neck injury. Again, check out MJD’s list by clicking here.

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