Through his first two seasons, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris has done something just 75 running backs in NFL history have acomplished: rush for 1,000 yards back-to-back years to open their careers.
Ahead of his third year in the NFL, Harris has a chance to join some elite company with a third straight 1,000-yard season, joining the likes of Clinton Portis, Eric Dickerson, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Corey Dillon, Barry Sanders and more, potentially becoming the 18th running back in league history to accomplish such a feat.
Despite the history awaiting him, and the production he’s had to this point, Harris surprisingly ranked outside of the top 15 in Pro Football Focus’ running back rankings Thursday morning, landing at No. 19 overall, according to Trevor Sikkema’s rankings.
“Harris has been solid throughout his NFL career. He’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons but did so with a sub-4.0 yards-per-carry average,” Sikkema writes. “So far, he’s been a product of his volume more than efficiency. We’ll see if he can take that next step in 2023.”
It’s fair to say that Harris’ production has been more about volume than efficiency. The yards per carry number bear that out.
Last season’s production wasn’t all that impressive, compared to other running backs in the NFL. Harris put up 272 carries, 1,034 yards, and seven touchdowns and another 41 receptions, 229 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Despite numbers that aren’t all that impressive, at least from an efficiency standpoint, having Harris at No. 19 overall at the running back position in the NFL feels a bit criminal.
In Sikkema’s ranking, Harris is behind New England’s Rhamondre Stevenson, Atlanta’s Tyler Allgeier and Baltimore’s J.K. Dobbins, and that’s just outside the top 15.
Other names like the Jets’ Breece Hall, Houston’s Dameon Pierce and even New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara ranked ahead of Harris in the piece.
After struggling with a foot injury early in the 2022 season, Harris got healthy down the stretch and played much better for the Steelers. He played a key role in Pittsburgh’s rushing attack ranking No. 7 in the NFL in the second half of the season.
Now, following some offseason additions like the selection of left tackle Broderick Jones in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft and the signing of left guard Isaac Seumalo in free agency, the Steelers’ offensive line appears rebuilt and trending towards being a strength, something it hasn’t been in the past. That should do nothing but help Harris.
The Alabama product is a true workhorse back and a real threat between the tackles as that battering ram running back who can wear defenses down. He is also a versatile, moveable weapon in the passing game and serves as a safety outlet for quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Assuming good health, a consistent workload and improvement by the offensive line, there’s really no reason Harris shouldn’t get back to his rookie season level of play, putting himself right back in the discussion of the top running backs in the NFL once again.
But right now, ahead of the 2023 season, Harris is far too low in PFF’s positional rankings.