The Pittsburgh Steelers have not often entered a season without palpable expectations, but that might actually be the case in 2022. The stability of having quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center basically guaranteed the team a playoff appearance, and their execution from that point forward would determine how far they went.
The NFL odds for the upcoming season don’t have Pittsburgh as one of the favorites to make noise in the AFC this year, but that could be a mistake considering that the Steelers haven’t had a losing season since 2003. Additionally, while their situation under center will unfold with Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, or Kenny Pickett, they have as talented a running back as any in the NFL in Najee Harris. There’s a real chance he could be the catalyst that returns the Steelers right back to the postseason.
Workload, And Ability To Handle It
There is no question that the Steelers viewed Harris as a legitimate three-down back coming out of the University of Alabama. In an era where teams are much more hesitant to invest a first-round pick on a running back, the Steelers knew that he would immediately transform what had been a shaky ground game into at least a competent one.
Pittsburgh reaped the benefits of it in 2021. Harris scampered for 1,200 yards on 307 carries, while punching in seven touchdowns. While it wouldn’t be prudent to expect Harris to handle that work for five to seven years with the same production, he should be able to better that output as a sophomore. The 6’1”, 232-pound back is one of the more imposing physical specimens at the position this side of Derrick Henry. There has been some talk that Anthony McFarland will chip into his workload, but Harris will be the bell cow on a team that sorely needs him to be one.
Versatile Skill Set
It is often said in the NFL that a quarterback’s best friend is an efficient running game, and that largely holds true even in today’s pass-heavy game. However, having a running back that can catch passes out of the backfield might be just as beneficial.
Harris can do a lot of damage between the tackles, but serves as a great pass catcher as well. In his rookie campaign, he caught 74 passes for 467 yards, which are totals some wide receivers didn’t even eclipse. Part of that may have been a more conservative offensive approach in Roethlisberger’s final year, but it is hard to see that philosophy changing too much in 2022. This added ability to reel in catches out of the flat gives Harris an edge over many other players at his position.
Steelers’ Elite Coaching Staff
It’s no secret the infrastructure the Steelers have is one of the most reliable in the NFL. It has paid dividend over the better part of the last 60 years, and it is hard to bet against such a reliable level of success.
Simply put, Pittsburgh will do what it takes to win, and will not cater to outside narratives about how they should play. This means that if they feel Harris is the ticket to success this season, they will utilize him in a manner that will control the clock and wear defenses down. If rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett airs the ball out less because Harris is eating up yards, and the team is winning, then that is the narrative they will stick to.
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