If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to contend in the AFC North this season, they need a huge year from running back Najee Harris.
As a rookie, Najee Harris was solid. In 2022, the Pittsburgh Steelers will need him to be fantastic.
Despite incredible offensive limitations headlined by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the final season of his eventual Hall of Fame career, Pittsburgh went 9-7-1 and qualified for the AFC playoffs as the No. 7 seed, only to be blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs, 42-21, in the Wild Card round.
Now, with Roethlisberger retired and either veteran Mitchell Trubisky or rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett stepping to the fore, the offense will be in transition. Enter Harris.
As a rookie, Harris ran for 1,200 yards, albeit on 3.9 yards per carry. The Steelers need to see the latter number rise and perhaps the former as well, unfair as that may be. The big problems facing Harris, though, are a poor offensive line and defenses gearing up to take him away, forcing Pittsburgh to beat opponents with a revamped passing attack.
To this end, perhaps Harris’ best chance to continuously beat defenses is in the passing game. Last season, he caught 74 passes for 467 yards, giving defensive coordinators another competent of his skill set to deal with.
Regardless, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin believes in his ’21 first-rounder out of Alabama, saying the following this week on The Pivot podcast:
“That dude is a bell cow. He’s gonna have to be a bell cow for us. If this train is going anywhere in 2022, he’s going to be a major component of it, and he’s capable. I ain’t even talking about from a talent standpoint. We know that. I’m talking about he’s capable from an intangibles standpoint. Bringing the best out in his teammates. Wearing the responsibility that comes with leading.”
While Pittsburgh’s defense will keep it in games and perhaps even win some outright, the offense will eventually need to score a few points to beat the better teams, a few of which are in the AFC North. If the Steelers are going to do it, Harris will be the focal point of an attack which has need to be overhauled for years, and is finally getting such a facelift.
And in 2022, Harris must be at the forefront of it all.