So, the running back controversy in Pittsburgh is behind us, right? Well, in the eyes of the team, it never existed, and it still does not, but in the eyes of the public, it still burns. On Thursday, Dan Graziano of ESPN delved into a potential surprise for each team. For the Steelers, it was that Jaylen Warren could supplant Najee Harris in Pittsburgh’s backfield.
“But Warren’s performance in practice and games has demanded a larger role for him than what Pittsburgh had planned a year ago,” Graziano wrote. “He has shown the ability to spell Harris whenever asked, and he has actually looked more explosive in some areas. Unless Harris looks more like the 2021 version of himself than the 2022 version, Warren’s opportunity could increase dramatically as the year goes on. Warren, a 2022 undrafted free agent, took 77 carries for 379 yards last season.”
I have addressed this multiple times before, but Pittsburgh has no running back controversy. I believe Graziano could be right that Warren will see a heavier workload. But Harris and Warren are a duo that works better with one another rather than having a lead back. Harris will likely see around 60 percent of the carries, and barring injury, that probably will not change. What could change this year is that Najee Harris and Warren could be on the field at the same time.
“Well, Najee is our 1,” offensive Matt Canada said after the Bills game. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We are fortunate. We’re excited about Jaylen and Najee. He finishes a lot of runs in practice. But if you back that play up from the endzone, Diontae had a great block. That was big to see that. Jaylen is a guy who on third down and all of the things he did as a rookie, we’ll use him a lot”
The notion that Warren is better is not entirely unfounded. Harris lacks the efficiency, even though he dealt with a foot injury last year, but this is not even a debate in the building. That makes the entire debate seem superficial, especially since both will get many touches. Pittsburgh sees the players as a pair, and Warren nearly already has starter status alongside Harris. It is a committee that slightly veers towards Harris. A smash-mouth team first, that should continue to lean slightly in Harris’ direction with Warren still getting plenty of playing time.