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Jerome Bettis Thinks Najee Harris Will Flourish with Revamped Offensive Line

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Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to decline Najee Harris’ fifth-year option was somewhat of a surprising move. There’s arguments on both sides, but the general opinion from the national media is that the Steelers made the right move.

Former Steelers running back and Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis was surprised that the Steelers didn’t place the fifth-year option on Harris, but he understands the business part of it.

“I was surprised, but here’s why I am not surprised,” Bettis said during an appearance on The Joe Starkey Show on 93.7 The Fan Thursday. “I’m not surprised because there’s, I believe, a conscious effort the NFL has taken on running backs…to keep the numbers for running backs under wraps so that they can have the money to go give quarterbacks, and give to wide receivers, and give to tight ends.”

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.

The offensive line is completely 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. That wasn’t the case in his rookie year when he was running behind the likes of Kendrick Green, Trai Turner and a rookie Dan Moore Jr.

“I thought his first year and a half, he didn’t have the success he would’ve liked,” Bettis said. “But I do believe the Steelers didn’t put the offensive line out there that was going to give him success. Realistically, last year was the first year they had an offensive line that really could be good at run-blocking.”

The Steelers have completely revamped the offensive line in the last two seasons. They now have two bookend first-round pick tackles, a plug-and-play center, and two solid veteran guards.

“That’s showing you that the offensive line is not where it needs to be,” Bettis explained. “They’ve made it a point of emphasis, which means as a running back, you’re going to be much better.”