According to Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris is the most-bet player to win the 2023 NFL rushing title at BetMGM. Of all the money bet on who will lead the league in rushing, 42.1% is on Harris. That figure was 50.8% in late June.
Harris has the ninth-best odds at +1800 to win the rushing title, but with the Steelers bolstering their offensive line and talks of a run-heavy ball-control offense, bettors believe there’s a path for Harris to win the rushing title despite the 18-to-1 odds. Schwab points out that there were concerns about Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who was also a first-round pick out of Alabama before he led the league in rushing last year. Harris has recently been buried by several analysts for averaging 3.9 yards per carry in his career.
The 3.9 yards per carry average is certainly not ideal, but Harris dealt with a lingering Lisfranc injury early last season and his offensive line didn’t gel until late in the year. Harris played with a steel plate in his cleat in the early portion of last year, and it was evident that he wasn’t the same player. Once Harris got fully healthy after the bye week, his yards per carry climbed nearly a full yard, averaging 4.1 yards per carry compared to 3.2. He also had a better success rate on rates in the second half, registering in at around 42.5%, better than the league average.
This year’s offensive line will be by far the best unit that Harris has played with in his young career, especially with the addition of former Philadelphia Eagles guard Isaac Seumalo, who’s an excellent run blocker. The Steelers also selected Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones in the first round and massive Georgia tight end Darnell Washington in the fourth round. Washington is considered as a sixth offensive lineman. That’s how good of a blocker he is.
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada confirmed during minicamp that the Steelers want to have a smash-mouth offense.
“We want to run the football,” Canada said. “We want to be physical. We want to be a good team that throws the ball down the field and takes advantage of what the defense gives us. I think our identity is well known. We will stay where we are at.”
Even with an improved offensive line, Harris is not a burner, which is something that he gets knocked for. His longest runs in the last two years were from 37 and 36 yards out, respectively. If Harris is going to win the rushing title, he needs to rip off more explosive runs and hit the 100-yard mark consistently. He had just one 100-yard performance last year, four overall in his career. Jacobs had five 100-yard performances and a 200-yard game last season. He also nearly reached 100 yards in two other games.
In 2021, Jacobs rushed over 100 yards just twice and averaged 4.0 yards per carry, so it’s certainly possible that Harris can break out this year and win the rushing title. He has the proper pieces around him, as well. The last Steelers running back to lead the league in rushing was Bill Dudley in 1942 and 1946. Willie Parker had a good chance of winning the rushing title in 2007 but he suffered a broken right fibula in Week 16. Parker finished the season with 1,316 yards rushing (fourth in the league), while LaDainian Tomlinson ended up winning the rushing title with 1,474 yards.