Steelers RB Najee Harris is a player whose first two years in the NFL are a weird conglomeration of positives and negatives. For one, he’s grown into a leader who has moments of brilliance on the field. On the other hand, his inefficiency as a running back and some inconsistencies have led to doubt about him.
His rushing yards over expectation are in the red. If you want explosive runs, he’s not a boon there, either. But there are some signs that point to that inefficiency at least being out of his control in a few ways. The two stats that stand out are his yards before contact and his forced missed tackle rate per carry.
According to Graham Barfield of FantasyPts, Harris ranks dead last in the NFL in yards before contact among running backs with more than 250 carries since he entered the league. He averaged only 1.12 yards before contact, which certainly showcases some of the poor offensive line play. However, Harris has forced 0.23 missed tackles per carry, the 7th most in the NFL in that timespan.
That’s positive. It doesn’t give all the context, though. Some of that yards before contact could come to surface because Harris lacks elite burst. But the stats really do not lie on this point. Harris played the first five games of the season with a steel plate in his shoe after suffering a lisfranc injury.
His yards per carry climbed nearly a full yard after he took that plate out. It went from 3.2 yards per carry to 4.1 yards per carry. Harris forced for missed tackles, raising his forced missed tackle per carry rate and percentage. His yards after contact rose by over half a yard. Essentially, any efficiency metric you want to look at says the same thing — Najee Harris was a far different player for the Steelers after that steel plate came out.
His numbers, in other words, undervalue the production he would have put up healthy. Not only that, he did the better efficiency numbers at a higher volume. Harris averaged around 13 carries prior to week 6, but over 17 carries per game after that.
Harris is far from a perfect player. That’s true. But I do think there’s some context missing here from some struggles that really hurt his production. If the second half of the season Harris shows up, he’s going to be a volume monster and should be in line to put up great numbers with a better supporting cast around him, too.