Football is the ultimate team sport. The vast majority of us who participated in any type of team sport had multiple coaches who stressed to us that there is no "I" in TEAM. While that overused and oversimplified statement is indeed true, it's even more so for football.
Baseball has individual showdowns between hitter and pitcher. One dominant player in basketball can definitely turn the tide in live action. Football players, no matter how talented, are dependent on their teammates to a degree. The entire offense depends on the performance of the offensive line. The most talented quarterbacks and skill position players are directly impacted by the line. The best wide receivers still need someone throwing them the ball. The defensive side of the ball have similar dependencies. Notice a trend yet?
That's why I am surprised how often some players are either praised or prodded for their performances seemingly without taking their supporting cast into consideration.
That has definitely been the case for Steelers RB Najee Harris through the first couple of seasons of his NFL career. Please allow me to elaborate.
It's not Najee Harris' fault that the Steelers drafted him in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert messed up. Simply put, he made a mistake. There, I finally said it. I feel a sense of relief, like a burden has been lifted.
Colbert's tenure lasted over two decades, with drastically different results between decades. The first stanza of was filled with success, including three Super Bowl appearances, two Lombardi Trophies, and the second franchise QB in team history. His second act was a mixed bag. Plenty of generational talents, but never quite enough quality depth to get the Killer B's over the finish line. Numerous close calls, but no cigar.
Similar to the infamous British spy and sex symbol Austin Powers before him, somewhere along the way Colbert lost his mojo. Unlike Powers, Colbert never fully regained his edge. Thankfully, Colbert's Mini-Me was there to replace him. That would be Omar Khan obviously.
Colbert's gradually diminishing mojo revealed itself only on occasion. The sudden fixation on skill position players, especially wide receivers. The resistance to focusing on both foundations. The Jarvis Jones debacle, the Artie Burns knee-jerk reaction, the Terrell Edmunds reach, and the Devin Bush desperation. I hesitate to believe that Kevin Colbert would have made those miscalculations during the early portion of his Steelers tenure.
However, the most telling misstep of Colbert's second stanza was drafting Najee Harris in the first round. An accomplished NFL decision maker of his status knows better than to put the cart before the horse. Drafting a first round running back when you lack any semblance of a NFL caliber offensive line is akin to buying a car without an engine. It might look pretty, but it's not going to get you anywhere.
The Steelers had the opportunity to draft Oklahoma C Creed Humphrey in that same draft class, and went in another direction, twice. Just a quick reminder; Humphrey was the best center prospect that I had seen in years. Instead of pulling the trigger on the best prospect at arguably the team's biggest area of need, Colbert waited until the third round to select Illinois C/G project Kendrick Green. Green had excellent athleticism, but severe shortcomings with length and experience. In the end, Green was the best, if only, option at center. The Steelers offense struggled mightily in the process.
Najee Harris was regularly asked to do the impossible during his rookie season. The Steelers force feed him the rock, where he was expected to turn a probable two yard loss into a two or three yard gain. Harris utilized numerous impressive stiff arms and high hurdles to accumulate a 1,200 yard Pro Bowl rookie season, but he took a beating in the process.
The Steelers strengthened their interior offensive line via free agency during the 2022 offseason, but Harris wasn't able to capitalize on the improvement due to a foot injury that hampered him during the first half of the season, plus a carousel of quarterbacks leading one of the most anemic passing attacks in the NFL.
Thankfully, the Steelers offense gelled enough during their 7-2 finish to the 2022 season that Harris was just able to produce his second consecutive thousand yard season. He benefited from not only the improved offensive line, but also the arrival of a more than capable back-up in Jaylen Warren. No more need to run the ultra competitive Harris into the ground.
Finally, there should be no more excuses for the Steelers offensive struggles. The Steelers now possess their most talented offensive line in at least five seasons, probably more. They have a talented young QB with mobility and potential, a well balanced wide receiver room, arguably the best tight end group in the league, and the aforementioned Dynamic Duo at running back.
The Steelers have finally finished rebuilding the engine for their flashy sports car. The horse is now where he belongs, in front of the cart. Now it's up to Kenny Pickett to do the driving, and Najee Harris to supply plenty of horsepower.
Good thing that the Khan Artist done went and pulled a Dr. Evil, assembling a frightening offensive line that resembles a group of sharks with freaking laser beams attached to their heads. First, Khan plans on NFL domination, starting with a Super Bowl championship. Then the world. Oh, behave!