The 2022 stats for third-year Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris might not look all that remarkable — 272 carries, 1,034 yards, seven touchdowns; 41 receptions, 229, yards, three touchdowns — but to former Steelers linebacker and current NFL analyst Ryan Shazier, Harris is one of the best running backs in the NFL, period.
Appearing on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football Thursday with co-hosts Jamie Erdahl, Jason McCourty, Shaun O’Hara and Mike Garafolo, Shazier heaped praise on Harris, stating that with the improvements this offseason along the offensive line, Harris will be able to run the football a lot better and be one of the best running backs in the league.
“The biggest thing that everybody talked about with (the) Steelers last year was our o-line,” Shazier said on GMFB, according to video via NFL.com. “So bringing Broderick [Jones] in and then Isaac [Seumalo] as well on the o-line, I think that’s gonna really solidify the o-line, allow us to run the ball a lot better, because Najee, to me, is one of the best running backs in the NFL when he actually has the line to do it.”
Harris had a strong rookie season in 2021, rushing for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns on 307 carries and adding 74 receptions that season for 467 yards and three touchdowns. After that rookie season, the Steelers tried to rebuild the offensive line, which was one of the league’s worst in 2021.
Despitethe additions of Mason Cole and James Daniels at center and guard, respectively, and the continued growth of Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle, the run game got off to a very slow start in 2022, coupled with a foot injury Harris was dealing with.
As the run game struggled early in the season, questions started to arise about Harris and if he should be replaced by backup running back Jaylen Warren, who was having some success early on. The Steelers stayed patient though as Harris worked back from the injury and ultimately found his footing (no pun intended). He helped the Steelers become the No. 7 rushing attack in the NFL in the second half of the season as they rebounded from 2-6 before the Week 9 bye to finish 9-8 on the season.
Now, with some additions like Jones in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft and 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 that 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.