If the Pittsburgh Steelers really want to commit to running the football next season, then they took major steps in improving in that area this offseason, at least on paper, which may include no fewer than three new starters.
The unquestioned new starter is free agent Isaac Seumalo at left guard, but they also added two players in the draft who could be big contributors from the word go. First-round pick Broderick Jones could start at left tackle, and tight end Darnell Washington could start as well, compelling the team to adopt the 12 personnel as its “base” offense. Either way, he could be in line to play 500-plus snaps. And that’s good for one person in particular, Georgia Bulldogs analyst and former player Randy McMichael says.
“He is a man. And you think he’s big? Him and Darnell over there on the left side together? It’s gonna be like a Great Wall of China right there”, he said of Jones on 93.7 The Fan with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller. “Ain’t nobody happier right now than Najee Harris, because I’ve never seen a running back, like, it’s so hard to gain two yards. They’re gonna move people on that left side of the ball up there in Pittsburgh”.
Najee Harris would be the Steelers’ starting running back, their first-round draft pick in 2021. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, the first player in franchise history to do so.
But that makes McMichael’s observation no less true. According to Pro Football Reference, Harris’ 2.1 yards before contact per rushing attempt in 2022 was among the lowest in the league among 46 qualifying runners, and not far from the bottom at 1.9 for Kareem Hunt. He ranked 40th overall, though he also only ranked 32nd in yards after contact per attempt.
Of course, Harris played the first half of last season with a Lisfranc foot injury that he suffered very early in training camp. He even played the first five or so games with a metal plate in his cleat to help brace his foot.
The running game in general was much better in the second half of the year, for various reasons, but there is good reason to believe that it can take another sizeable step forward in 2023. Seumalo is already a significant upgrade, as is Washington as a blocker, who self-identifies as a sixth offensive lineman.
And that’s not even mentioning that the Steelers have another running back on the roster in Jaylen Warren, who is coming off of an encouraging rookie season. They could really develop a dynamic one-two punch out of the backfield behind this new personnel. And if Jones earns the starting job and can make an impact right away as a run blocker, the left side of the line will become a problem for defenses in a hurry.