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PFF Analyst Expects ‘First-Round Version’ of Najee Harris in 2024

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Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris

Running back Najee Harris is entering a pivotal contract year with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2024. The Steelers turned down his fifth-year option earlier this month, and many doubt that he’ll be back in Pittsburgh next season because of it.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said the decision was more about the business side of things and the positional value of the running back position than being unhappy with Harris as a player.

“It could reflect a lot of things, but there’s probably some depth to those waters,” Tomlin said at Day 1 of Steelers OTAs. “Sometimes, it’s position-related, and things of that nature. There’s a business component of this and of all decisions that we make. There’s layers to it. I’m not going to try to characterize it in simplicity. That would probably be inappropriate.”

Former Steelers running back and Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis thinks the criticism of Najee Harris has been unfair and there’s a chance the Steelers could regret not picking up his fifth-year option.

Harris declined to be interview at the first week of Steelers’ OTAs, so it’s unclear how he feels about the organization’s decision to not place the fifth-year option on him. But he could view the move a slight and use it as extra motivation.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus thinks Harris is the most underappreciated player on the Steelers. He also projects that the former Alabama Crimson Tide running back will go off in 2024 and finally display why he was a first-round pick in 2021.

“Najee Harris gets viewed as through the lens of he was a first-round running back and he was supposed to fix the run game in Pittsburgh,” Monson said, via a video released by the 33rd Team. “As we know, you’re not gonna do that. You can’t get a running back in the first round to fix a run game that’s broken because the offensive line or the system isn’t gonna let it function.

“And that’s what Najee Harris was asked to do. Wasn’t able to do it. Now the Steelers have overhauled that offensive line. I think this is finally the year we’re finally gonna see the first-round version of Najee Harris because the offensive line has been improved.”

Monson makes a valid point about the offensive line that Harris was introduced to in his rookie season. Running behind the likes of Kendrick Green, Trai Turner and a rookie Dan Moore Jr. is not an ideal. The Steelers revamped their offensive line over the last two seasons through the draft and free agency. Coupled with Arthur Smith’s run-heavy offensive scheme, Harris should flourish. If he could have repeat performances of his game against Seattle in Week 17 last season, when he rushed for 122 yards on 27 carries (4.5 average) and two touchdowns, it will be a banner season for Harris.