Pittsburgh Steelers running back, Najee Harris, has been nominated by the NFL as the Fed Ex Ground Player of the Week. This comes during a season that has been rife with frustration, criticism, and confusion regarding the former number 1 draft pick’s performance. The Steelers knew they needed to get something going in the run game and had Jaylen Warren spell Harris to help provide a different look. Warren has been a welcome change, however, Harris has been showing flashes of his brilliant rookie season these past two weeks and it is a welcome sight.
A Leap Into Steelers Lore
This was especially true during the Week 11 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Harris took a hand-off near the 30-yard line and ran, untouched, toward the endzone, hurdling Bengals defender Jessie Bates and picking up a touchdown. Those athletic, leaping jumps over opponents are part of the splashy plays that earned Harris so much attention and made him a star on the Alabama Crimson Tide. That 19-yard run was Harris’s most rushing yards before contact this season as well as the longest touchdown play for the Steelers at that point. In fact, it more than doubled the previous longest play of only 8 yards.
Harris Limped Through the Beginning of the Season
Harris blew the roof off of rookie expectations last season and silenced many of the critics who questioned taking a RB in the first round. However, it was apparent rather quickly that his sophomore season was not getting off to the same hot start. Harris apparently suffered a Lisfranc sprain on the first day of training camp. Head Coach Mike Tomlin was as tight-lipped about this injury as is he about most things. This left more questions than answers about what was hampering Harris’ performance.
How much was the injury lingering and how much of the issue is offensive play calling? In mid-October, Harris announced that he played the first several weeks of the season with a steel plate in his shoe. He said that it impeded his performance, but he was feeling closer to 100%.
Harris Turning the Corner
By Week 10, traces of the old Harris began to surface and his gameplay dramatically improved. During the first 8 games of the season, Harris had 108 rushing attempts for 361 yards, 3.25-yard average, and only 1 touchdown. In Weeks 10 and 11 alone, he had 40 attempts for 189 yards, a 4.75-yard average, and 2 touchdowns. It is a huge improvement over the start of the season.
This improvement has earned Harris some well-deserved recognition. He was nominated for the NFL Fed Ex Ground Player of the Week along with Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs and Detroit Lions RB Jamaal Williams. In addition, Harris was also named the Steelers Digest player of the week. He was the 3rd highest-rated Steeler offensive player for Week 11 with 68.0 (Pat Freiermuth 74.6 and Kevin Dotson 73.0).
While there is still a lot of work left to be done, even by Harris’ own admission, this improvement to the run game is a substantial boost. Getting something happening on the ground should take some of the pressure off QB Kenny Pickett and allow him to focus on the passing game. It seems like a promising uptick in performance and gives hope that Harris will have more stellar performances this season.
Do you think Harris will continue to progress and get his swagger back? Click to comment below!