During the NFL offseason, it’s customary to see articles from “football analysts” in the media highlighting potential sleepers, breakouts, and busts for every NFL team to pass the time before the start of training camp. This can be the case for players others deem overrated or underrated as well compared to general consensus, believing that a player brings more or less value to the table relative to their expectations.
Gary Davenport of Bleacher Report recently posted a piece highlighting the NFL’s Most Overrated Player at Each Position Entering 2023 Season, naming the likes of QB Kyler Murray and EDGE Bradley Chubb as players who aren’t either worth their price tag or simply get too much hype. While RB Alvin Kamara and WR Odell Beckham Jr. took the headline spots at the running back and wide receiver positions, Davenport did list RB Najee Harris and WR Diontae Johnson of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the other overrated players section of their respective positions.
When looking at the raw numbers of these two players, you can see where Davenport is making his argument. Harris was taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft to be Pittsburgh’s bell cow running back. While he has amassed a whopping 694 touches in his first two seasons in the league, Harris hasn’t been extremely effective with those touches, averaging 3.9 YPC and 4.7 yard per target. He lacks high-end speed and explosiveness and was outshined at points last season by rookie UDFA RB Jaylen Warren, a replacement-level RB who showed more juice as a runner than Harris while being a fraction of the cost invested into Harris.
As for Diontae Johnson, he had statistically the most unfortunate season for a WR in the NFL history last season, having the most catches in the regular season (86) without scoring a single TD. Putting Johnson’s lack of TD luck, tendency to run backwards after the catch, and the occasional drop to the side, he hasn’t been exactly the Pro Bowl receiver Pittsburgh paid him to be last offseason. He had historically low YAC numbers last season while averaging just 10.7 YPR on his career. For a player who receives as many targets as Johnson does (552 in four seasons), you would like to see better production on a per target basis.
Still, Harris and Johnson have their arguments regarding their lack of production. Harris dealt with a foot injury for the beginning of the season and noticeably improved his play down the stretch as he got healthier. Once the offensive line started to gel, Harris’ performance also improved, and he finished 2022 with over 1,000 rushing yards. For Johnson, OC Matt Canada hasn’t exactly helped his chances to produce better YPR numbers or many YAC opportunities by limiting his route tree to short curls, comebacks, and out routes. The QB situation didn’t help either with Pittsburgh going back and forth between Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, throwing for a combined 12 TDs last season, which was the worst in football.
For being considered Pro Bowl-caliber players, I would tend to agree with Davenport that Johnson and Harris are a tad overrated based on their results the last season. However, with a revamped OL, stability at the QB position, and guarded optimism that Canada’s offense can take a step forward in 2023, Johnson and Harris can both buck that notion of being considered overrated at their respective positions, having seasons to justify them as two of Pittsburgh’s top offensive weapons.