It’s safe to say that second-year star running back Najee Harris is going to be relied upon very heavily once again in 2022 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
With new starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky still getting his feet underneath him in the Steel City, and a reworked offensive line still attempting to gel in front of him, Harris is going to have to be the bell-cow for the Steelers once again. That should allow him to finish in the top 5 in rushing yards for the second straight season, according to NFL.com analyst and former nine-year NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew, who took a shot at predicting the 2022 top 10 rushing leaders, had Harris at No. 5 in his sophomore season, behind the likes of Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor, Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon. Notice a trend there? All AFC running backs, and three of the five from the AFC North.
After finishing fourth in the NFL as a rookie in rushing yards (1,200) and second in carries (307), Jones-Drew sees a slight step back from Harris in his second season, though the workload will remain the same.
“Just like they did last year in Ben Roethlisberger’s final season, the Steelers will again gladly hand the ball off to their bell cow,” Jones-Drew writes regarding Harris at No. 5 in his top 10 predictions. “Mitchell Trubisky will start the year as QB1 and I expect Harris to get 25-30 touches per game.”
Harris will be the bell-cow again, but if he gets 25-30 touches a game throughout the season and somehow stays healthy for all 17 games, that puts him between 425 and 510 touches on the season, a significant increase from the 381 he had as a rookie.
While head coach Mike Tomlin likes to have a bell-cow, there’s no way he’s running Harris into the ground at that level, like Jones-Drew believes. Realistically, if Harris gets 25-30 touches a game, he’s not making it through a 17-game season, so even at, let’s say, 15 games, that’s still between 375 and 450 touches in a single season.
That’s far too many.
Add in the fact that the Steelers offensive line remains a great mystery at this point with tons of concerns, it feels like a stretch to believe that Harris will somehow finish top 5 in rushing once again, especially with Henry in Tennessee healthy again, as well as the emergence from Denver’s Javontae Williams into the starting role, and full seasons from New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara and San Francisco’s Elijah Mitchell, to name a few.
A good bet is Harris finishes top 10 for sure, but top 5 feels like a stretch. For what it’s worth, Jones-Drew had New York’s Saquon Barkley, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott, Green Bay’s Aaron Jones and Mitchell rounding out his top 10 rushing leaders predictions.