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: Up
Reasoning: Nothing has happened this offseason that would in any way affect positively or negative Najee Harris’ status in the pecking order. But what has happened is that the Steelers have continued to make the offensive line in front of him better, which could have a dramatic impact on his performance.
The run game success argument is one of the chicken and the egg. Which comes first, a great running back or a good offensive line? While it’s hard to do a great deal without both, most find that the latter can take you further.
The Steelers are approaching the closest thing they will have had to a good offensive line in some years now, at least on paper. While at the moment there only projects to be one new starter in comparison to last season, the expected continued internal growth and the possibility of adding another starter in the draft is tempting to consider.
But what will undoubtedly make a difference is Isaac Seumalo, likely slotting in at left guard. Kevin Dotson was drafted with a profile suggesting a road grader, but he never really developed into that—indeed, he has been better in pass protection up to this point.
Seumalo is an immediate and not insignificant upgrade in all areas, including above the neck. He can raise the level of play of the entire offensive line, including a young Dan Moore Jr. next to him at left tackle.
Or, maybe by the time the regular season starts there will be a new left tackle on the roster coming through the draft. A Paris Johnson Jr. or a Dawand Jones or a Broderick Jones, somebody brought in within the top 50 selections, of which they own three.
Nothing could be better for Najee Harris’ immediate future than improving that offensive line. With the addition of Seumalo (as well as Nate Herbig, at a minimum for depth), and the possibility of another upgrade in the starting lineup in a tackle, he could be in for his smoothest season of running the ball so far.
According to Pro Football Reference, Harris didn’t have much better luck with rushing yards before contact after the bye than he did before it, it’s worth noting. The biggest difference was after contact, and in the frequency of broken tackles. If the Steelers can improve his yards before contact per rush figure, that’s where we’ll see a big difference. And that starts in the trenches.