Najee Harris Named Darkhorse To Lead NFL In Rushing TDs

Najee Harris has had something of an up-and-down NFL career. Part of a rebuilding Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense, he’s had his fair share of highlight reel moments and is every bit the player and person the Steelers expected to get after drafting him in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Still, his efficiency numbers don’t look great and 2022 wasn’t the sophomore jump many expected him to take, a year marred by injury and splitting time with UDFA Jaylen Warren.

Still, Harris has had a consistent nose for the end zone, scoring exactly seven rushing and three receiving touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. In a Sunday article predicting NFL “darkhorses” to lead in each major category, Bleacher Report’s Gary Davenport says Harris is a sleeper for a touchdown-heavy 2023 season. He ranked Harris as the third darkhorse to lead the league in rushing scores this year.

Harris has topped 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons, but he did so while averaging under four yards a carry. Volume shouldn’t be an issue with Harris—he’s far and away the Steelers’ top back—and the Pittsburgh offense should be improved in Kenny Pickett’s second season.”

It’s worth noting that in 2022, Harris wasn’t the true workhorse back he was as a rookie. By Week 5, Warren became the team’s third down back, a role he would largely maintain throughout the rest of the season. After playing 84% of the offense’s snaps as a rookie, Harris’ number dropped down to 66% last year. But from a touchdown-opportunity perspective, Harris should still see carries near the goal line. He still sees most of the work on early downs and of the team’s 43 plays inside the opposing five-yard line a year ago, Harris saw 12 carries compared to only two from Warren.

Point being, Harris may still slog his way to under four yards per carry but if Pittsburgh’s offense can take steps in 2023, there will be more goal line opportunities.

Last year, the NFL rushing touchdowns leader was Detroit’s Jamaal Williams with a whopping 17. In 2021, it was Jonathan Taylor’s 18 and 17 again in 202 when Derrick Henry led the way. The odds of Harris hitting into the high teens like that seem slim. Doing so would mean shattering a long-held Steelers’ record. Currently, the most rushing scores in one season is Franco Harris’ 14 of them in 1976. In the 21st century, three players have hit thirteen: Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker, and Rashard Mendenhall.

Harris could flirt with double-digit rushing touchdowns in 2023. But leading the league? The odds are low. Of course, that’s why he’s a “darkhorse” and not a frontrunner and I’d be happy to be wrong come season’s end.

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