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Chris Hoke Thinks Najee Harris Will Ball Out This Season



Steelers Najee Harris

In a somewhat surprising move, the Pittsburgh Steelers declined Najee Harris’ fifth-year option last week. Harris’s option cost was $6.790 million for that fifth year. That would have paid him well for the position and where it is at, and as a bastion of availability, he has been dependable.

Former Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke thinks Harris will play with a chip on his shoulder this season to prove that he’s one of the league’s best backs.

“This is gonna be a show-me year for Najee. I tell you what, I hear he has lost some weight. I think he’ll come out and he’s gonna prove that he’s worth every penny,” Hoke said during an appearance on 93.7 The Fan Monday. “Sometimes when we make a guy bet on himself, and you make him go out and prove it, he could prove you right.”

Harris having a surly attitude due to the decline of the fifth-year option is a concern for veteran Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. Harris is very hot and cold sometimes in his temperament.

“Potentially, I mean he’s a very unique character. He’s hard to get a read on. Sometimes he’s cranky and sometimes he’s talkative. My biggest concern right now is which one are you going to get during the regular season here… is he going to be sitting and moaning and complaining behind the scenes… I’m not quite sure right now because he’s a very intriguing individual that can go either way at this point,” Kaboly said during a recent appearance on 93.7 The Fan.

Kaboly also discussed whether the fifth-year option decision would affect Harris’ relationship with Mike Tomlin.

“(Tomlin) still talks glowingly of him. You see the interactions and the behind-the-scenes stuff. I don’t know if it has changed to that point at least publicly or at least where we can see it here. I think it’s a big deal for Najee to get that C ripped off him last year. He wants to be a leader and at least tries to be a leader,” Kaboly said.

Hoke doesn’t think Harris’ attitude will be an issue for the Steelers. He says Harris has always been a true professional.

“I don’t think so,” Hoke said when asked if there could be a potential problem looming with Harris. “The reality is this: Najee’s always been a standup guy. Honestly, a couple things came outta frustration, but Najee … the guy by all accounts, from my point of view, has always been a standup guy. I think he’s gonna respond. He understands if he wants to be in this league and make money and set himself up generationally, he’s gotta have a good year, or he’s gonna become a journeyman. So this is a big year for him.”

Harris became the first player in Steelers history to run for 1,000 or more yards in each of the first three seasons of his career. In 2023, Harris had the best season of his career in terms of yards per carry as he rushed 255 times for 1,035 yards — a 4.1 yards per carry average — and he scored eight touchdowns. Harris had rushed for 3.9 and 3.8 yards per carry in his first two seasons. In other words, Harris has become a dependable running back for Pittsburgh through sheer availability and some solid tape.

He had his most efficient season yet in 2023. Harris’ rushing yards of expectation, yards per carry, and broken tackles per carry were all career-high. There is a lot to signal that Harris has some upside left in his game, and this should be the best offensive line he has played behind.

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