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First and 10: How Good Is Najee Harris Right Now?

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Pro Football Focus re-graded the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 NFL Draft haul on Wednesday, and after a year of contemplation, PFF decided to double down on its draft-day grade and once again give the Steelers a C. Most of the criticism come from the Steelers choosing to draft running back Najee Harris with their first-round pick, and the argued lack of value that position presents.

On some level, that makes sense, because Harris had the kind of rookie season that allowed one to see pretty much whatever they wanted to see in his game.

Harris made the PFWA All-Rookie Team, the Pro Bowl, finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards, was dangerous in the passing game, played nearly every snap all season, and seemed to get better as the year went on.

But that high level of usage also shows some cracks in that impressive-sounding foundation. His 3.9 yards per carry ranked him 40th in the NFL last season, and represented a downgrade from James Conner’s 4.1 yards per carry average in 2020.

Of course, at least some of that can be attributed to a very mediocre Steelers offensive line and a Pittsburgh offense that was severely limited by the abilities of aging quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Harris could certainly be more productive with better blocking and a more dynamic scheme.

Then there’s that heavy usage. One of the reasons that many believe running backs make poor first-round value picks is that they’re rarely worth their second contracts because they don’t hold up physically. Harris led the NFL in snaps taken by a running back and only seven other skill players had more snaps. That heavy usage doesn’t portend well for Harris’ future, and with the Steelers having done nothing to address the depth at running back, he’s headed for another big usage year in 2022. So his long-term prospects of playing through as second contact in Pittsburgh aren’t great.

In summation, it’s really hard to know how good Najee Harris is right now, and in many ways, it makes sense to retain whatever one’s draft-day opinion of the pick was. It’s probably more accurate to give the pick an incomplete than anything else.

Harris is a talented rusher, but if the Steelers don’t fix the offense around him, and don’t get depth to avoid running him in the ground, then it will have been a wasted pick.

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