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PFF Analyst Thinks Steelers Made Right Decision with Najee Harris



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.

Mina Kimes of ESPN thinks Harris is not even the best running back on his own team, so she has no issue with the the Steelers declining Harris’ fifth-year option.

“Jaylen Warren is the best back on their roster. … He’s not just more explosive than Harris, he’s one of the best backs in the NFL,” Kimes said. “I think he’s so complete. So good at forcing missed tackles. He’s good in pass protection, he could catch passes. So, for Pittsburgh, I think this year they’ll run it back with Warren and Harris, but next year I suspect they’ll hold onto Jaylen Warren and they’ll probably draft a running back in the later rounds to add to that committee.”

Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus expressed a similar opinion, but didn’t bash Harris as much.

“Yeah, I might be even higher on Najee than everyone else is. I think he’s fine as a runner, but you definitely saw what you guys are citing. I don’t care about a thousand-yard season or anything; that’s like 59 yards per game right now in a 17-game schedule. That’s not a big deal,” Palazzolo said on 93.7 The Fan with Andrew Fillipponi and Chirs Mueller. “But I think getting the next running back in there is fine. I mean that’s why when we went back a few years, we said don’t use that first round pick on a running back.

“You also have to take into the analysis how effective Jaylen Warren was last year behind the same offensive line, creating explosive plays. I though Najee was fine, but he really came on a the end and looked a little bit better down the stretch but was inconsistent and we just saw a much more explosive running attack with Warren. So yeah, I think it does make sense to move on.”

According to Brooke Pryor of ESPN, with the new offense being installed, the feeling is the organization wants to see how Harris and the running backs function in Arthur Smith’s offense before making a longer term commitment to him.

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.

But the argument against it makes sense, too. Smith’s offense runs wide zone more than anyone else in the NFL, and that offense does not cater to Harris’ downhill style. So, seeing how he performs is essential. In addition, Harris has a lot of tread on his tires and is approaching the threshold where you would expect some decline, at least after this season. Between his college and NFL touches, he has just under 1700 touches but will likely exceed over 2000 touches. Running backs hit a wall, usually near that number.

In addition, Warren will be a restricted free agent. The team must place a second-round tender or higher on him to comfortably retain him. Are they going to pay three running backs? Unlikely. Cordarrelle Patterson has a two-year deal, so they will at least be paying one running back, likely two when Warren or Harris come into consideration.