It’s already been a pretty remarkable rookie season for Steelers 2021 first round pick, Najee Harris. From breaking Franco Harris’ rookie rushing record, setting the rookie record for receptions in a game/season, and winning the Joe Greene Steelers team rookie of the year award. It is more than fair to say he is experiencing one of the best rookie years in Steelers history. But it could get a little more sweeter for the former Alabama star. With one game left in the season Harris is within striking distance of Joe Mixon and Nick Chubb to become the second leading rusher in the NFL this year.
The NFL’s rush leaders with 1 week of the 2021 season left pic.twitter.com/qPAXZDP6LD— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 4, 2022
Considering a Pittsburgh Steeler hasn't led the NFL in rushing since Bill Dudley did it in 1946, this should be regarded as a big deal. It really is more impressive when you remember how poor the Steelers offensive line has been all year long. Often times Harris was making these plays on his own. Heck, this past week, of Najee’s 188 rushing yards 181 of them came after first contact, and that was a game we considered to be one of the Steelers offensive line’s best of the year! Imagine what Harris could accomplish with a solid line in front of him.
The Steelers front office should be salivating over the opportunity to find better linemen. If they can get a solid offensive line in front of Harris, there's no reason why he can't lead the league in rushing in years to come.
Najee Harris led the Steelers offense, setting new career-highs for rushing yards (188), RYOE (+65), and rush EPA (+8.5).— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 4, 2022
Harris gained 181 of his 188 yards after contact, the 3rd-most in a game in the NGS era (since 2016).#CLEvsPIT | #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/BMxwzo6uOZ
As for this season, and surpassing Mixon and Chubb ahead of him on the rushing list, Harris needs just 34 yards to pass Mixon who has already been ruled OUT in Week 18 due to a COVID related issues. As for Nick Chubb, Harris needs to out play him by 30 yards on Sunday, and considering the Browns usage of Chubb the last few weeks it’s certainly possible it could happen. The Browns star running back has not been injured, but has seemingly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff despite being a beast all year long. Baker Mayfield was horrid against the Steelers in Week 17, and they still wouldn’t give Chubb the ball. The Steelers, on the other hand, are completely reliant on Harris if they want any resemblance of a balanced offense.
I would anticipate somewhere around 30 total touches for Harris against the Ravens on Sunday, while the Browns likely rotate Chubb, Kareem Hunt (if available), and D’Ernest Johnson in hopes to get them all healthy into the offseason.
Bengals’ Pro-Bowl RB Joe Mixon tested positive today for COVID-19 and will be out Sunday vs. the Browns, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 5, 2022
One day earlier, the Bengals placed S Vonn Bell, LB Akeem Davis-Gaither, DE Trey Hendrickson, C Trey Hopkins, G Quinton Spain on the reserve/COVID-19 list
While we can debate whether or not the Steelers were a team that should be taking a running back in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Harris has been one of the best players on this team and easily the best player on offense. If the Steelers commit to adding talent to the offensive line, Harris could be one of the best offensive weapons in football next year. We have seen this kid smash team records all year long with very little help, now imagine what he can do with it!
But what do you think? Will Najee Harris finish behind Jonathan Taylor for second in the NFL’s rushing yards in a season race? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.