Jerome Bettis should know the value of having a star player at a complementary position toward the end of an NFL player’s career.
Bettis had already played 12 NFL seasons — an eternity for a running back — when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
Teamed up with a more dynamic passing threat, and despite a reduced role in the Pittsburgh offense Bettis lasted two more seasons with Roethlisberger at the helm, retiring after winning Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit.
With Roethlisberger now toward the end of his career, Bettis thinks the Steelers’ drafting of running back Najee Harris from Alabama in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft could provide a similar late-career boost to Roethlisberger.
“I think Ben, under the right circumstances, if they can provide a running back and support Ben, I think you could see him another year or another two years,” Bettis on The Jake Asman Show Tuesday. “I think he still has the ability to get the football down the football field. You saw in those 11 games when they were undefeated that he did a great job of getting the football to the receivers and letting them make plays.”
It’s specifically the reduced workload that Bettis experienced late in his career that he envisions extending Roethlisberger’s, with a back like Harris able to take some of the pressure off.
“There’s no reason to think he can’t do the same things that he was doing, but on a very limited stage,” Bettis said. “If you ask him to throw the football 20-25 times, I think he can do that for another two years. But if you’re asking him to throw the football for 40 times a game, then yes, this will probably be his last year. Because physically, I don’t think him, at that age, is going to be able to do that consistently.”
Bettis also provided his thoughts on Harris’ strengths that will enable him to be able to have the kind of success in the ground the Steelers haven’t had in a while and allow new offensive coordinator Matt Canada to ease some of that burden on Roethlisberger.
“You have an opportunity to see his patience between the tackles,” Bettis said. “He’s a downhill runner, which is great. But he also has the athletic ability to make people miss. … Also, he has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which changes the dynamics of that running back position.”