Najee Harris

Latest On Steelers’ RB Situation

Improvement in the passing game is expected for the Steelers in 2023, Kenny Pickett‘s first full season as the team’s starting quarterback. Pittsburgh is nevertheless planning to rely heavily on the ground game, and a tandem or committee in the backfield does not appear likely.

The Steelers have used Najee Harris as one of the league’s workhorse backs since drafting him in the first round in 2021. The Alabama product has received 579 carries in his two years in Pittsburgh, the most in the NFL over that span. The impressive showings this offseason from backup Jaylen Warren have led to calls for the latter to receive more looks, but Harris is still in line to operate as he has during his previous Steelers campaigns.

“Najee is our 1, there’s no doubt about that,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said, via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor (Twitter link). “We’re protecting him to get him to that point… We’re planning on Najee being Najee when we start the regular season.”

Harris dealt with a Lisfranc injury last offseason, and it comes as no surprise that the Steelers have given him only two carries so far in the preseason. Warren has similarly been used sparingly, but his 62-yard touchdown against the Bills showcased the potential he flashed as a rookie last season. The former UDFA totaled 593 scrimmage yards on 105 touches while taking a clear backseat to Harris.

Pittsburgh has been connected to the idea of only carrying two backs on the active roster to start the season, something which would not be a problem if Harris were able to remain healthy and continue as the undisputed No. 1 in the backfield. Efficiency has been an issue for the 25-year-old (3.9 career yards per carry average), but the Steelers’ efforts to provide him an upgraded O-line should help in that regard.

General manager Omar Khan‘s recent remarks about the financial state of the running back market pointed to a lack of desire to pursue a lucrative extension for Harris starting next offseason, when he will first be eligible for a new deal. A strong showing this season would help his market nonetheless, and he is poised to remain the focal point of Pittsburgh’s ground game in 2023.

Steelers GM Omar Khan Addresses RB Market, Najee Harris

Najee Harris is one of several high-profile running backs who has publicly aired his grievances with the downward trend of the position’s market. Conversations amongst the league’s top backs have been aimed at finding a solution to the growing trend of teams avoiding lucrative commitments on second contracts, something which will become a key topic of conversation in Pittsburgh as early as next offseason.

Having been drafted in 2021, Harris is entering the all-important third year of his rookie contract this season. He will be eligible for an extension after the campaign, but, as a former first-rounder, the team will be able to keep him on the books through 2025 via the fifth-year option. Committing to Harris over the long-term would be complicated by the cost of extending franchise quarterbacks, however.

“You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure it out, but when quarterbacks’ salaries start increasing at the rate that they’re increasing, at some point, it’s going to have a residual effect somewhere on the roster,” GM Omar Khan said, via Tim Benz of

“Every franchise is going to handle things differently. It’s up to every franchise to decide how to build their roster, but eventually, that’s going to have an effect when the quarterback salaries are growing at a rate higher than what the cap is,” he added. “There are ways to get around whatever the cap number is, but it’s just going to be a natural effect.”

Indeed, surging prices for young quarterbacks have caused teams to find cost-effective players at other positions, and running backs are a natural target given their attrition rate. Workhorse backs are under threat of seeing a short shelf life in the NFL, something which is particularly of note in Harris’ case. The Alabama product leads the NFL in both carries (579) and touches (694) over the course of his two-year career.

He has been able to total 2,930 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns so far, but efficiency (3.9 yards per carry average) has been a concern. Those figures will play a large role in determining Khan’s willingness to extend Harris, 25, when the time comes, and the depressed nature of the market would lend itself to the team having plenty of leverage during contract talks. With plenty of time remaining before those need to begin, though, player and club are proceeding with the status quo ahead of 2023.

Khan noted that he has not discussed any hypothetical extension with Harris, while praising the latter for his on- and off-the-field contributions in his young career. How interested the Steelers become in committing to a multi-year deal sometime down the road will certainly be worth watching, however.

Could Steelers Keep Only Two RBs On Roster?

In 2022, five running backs (including one fullback) recorded carries for the Steelers offense. Starter Najee Harris and then-rookie Jaylen Warren accounted for 91 percent of those carries (349 of 384 total). The next two most-active carriers, Benny Snell and Derek Watt, are currently free agents, while Anthony McFarland is on a reserve/futures contract after spending last season on the team’s practice squad. All signs are pointing to an offense heavily featuring Harris and Warren, but is it possible that Pittsburgh would go so far as to only keep two running backs on their roster going into the 2023 season? Mark Kaboly of The Athletic seems to think so. Let’s break it down.

First of all, the name of the game for NFL running backs these days is “youth.” With a 25-year-old Harris heading into his third NFL season and a 24-year-old Warren heading into his second, the Steelers may be better set up than any team to roll confidently with two backs for a full season. Harris hasn’t missed a game since entering the NFL, and after leading the NFL in touches as a rookie, he shouldered another heavy load last year with the sixth-most touches in the league.

Warren wasn’t asked to do much in his rookie season. He only averaged about five carries per game, but despite playing less than half the number of snaps as Harris, Warren showed he has potential catching out of the backfield. He recorded 15 fewer receiving yards than Harris, but Warren averaged 7.6 yards per catch to Harris’s 5.6. He fits as an ideal relief back for Harris who can slide in on passing downs when needed. He hasn’t shown that he can carry the team if needed, but neither has any other back on their roster. Plus, Harris hasn’t put Pittsburgh in that position yet during his short career.

McFarland is struggling to hold on to a roster spot in Pittsburgh. After appearing in 11 games as a rookie in 2020, McFarland has only appeared in three games in the two seasons since. The team waived him in its final roster cuts before last season, negating his four-year rookie contract, before signing him to the practice squad and, eventually, a futures contract.

Pittsburgh also signed running back Jason Huntley to a futures contract this offseason after he spent the 2022 season on the practice squad. Huntley has 18 career carries for the Eagles over his first two years in the league but didn’t contribute at all to the Steelers offense last year.

Additionally, the team signed three undrafted free agents: small school backs Darius Hagans out of Virginia State and Alfonzo Graham out of Morgan State as well as Iowa fullback Monte Pottebaum. Hagans and Graham put up strong 2022 seasons for the Trojans and Bears, respectively, but neither is really considered a big threat to push Warren for backup or receiving back duties. Pottebaum was a distinguished scholar at Iowa and a strong special teams contributor.

Of all the above-mentioned backs, McFarland and Pottebaum have the strongest cases for making the 53-man roster with Harris and Warren. Special teams coordinator Danny Smith reportedly has a number of holes to fill in his units, but if he can do so without McFarland or Pottebaum, their chances of making the team will plummet.

Pottebaum has the added opportunity of solidifying himself as a true fullback, filling the void left by Watt. Even that’s not a sure thing, though, as tight end Connor Heyward could always revert back to that role, if needed. Before playing his redshirt senior season and his rookie NFL season at tight end, Heyward spent four years at Michigan State as a stout running back. If the Steelers decided to utilize his blocking and receiving abilities in a fullback/H-back type of role, they may continue to carry four tight ends on the roster in lieu of a third running back.

So, there you have it. As insane as it may seem in today’s NFL, the Steelers may be well on their way to carrying only two running backs on their 53-man roster. They fully trust Harris and Warren to carry out the duties of the room between them, and they can always cheat a little by borrowing a bit from the tight end room, if necessary.

RB Notes: Jacobs, Patriots, Steelers, Hill

Coming off just the NFL’s 11th performance with 300 yards from scrimmage, Josh Jacobs is not expected to practice much this week. The Raiders running back suffered a calf strain during his monster outing against the Seahawks, Tom Pelissero of tweets. Planning to go through “around the clock” treatment, Jacobs said (via The Athletic’s Tashan Reed, on Twitter) he is not planning to miss any time.

Of course, that expectation will be tested. Calf strains can sideline players for multiple weeks. Jacobs handled a career-high 39 touches in Las Vegas’ overtime win in Seattle, finishing with 303 scrimmage yards. He now leads the league in rushing (1,159 yards) and is making a strong case for a second Raiders contract, despite the team having passed on his fifth-year option. The Alabama alum has stayed relatively healthy during his career, having never missed more than three games in a season. But missing time due to this calf ailment would give Jacobs at least one absence in each of his four seasons.

Here is the latest from the running back scene:

  • The Patriots are not expected to have Damien Harris available against the Bills on Thursday. Harris left the Pats’ Thanksgiving Day game with a thigh injury, and’s Ian Rapoport notes (via Twitter) that issue will keep him out in Week 13 and potentially for more games. One of several starter-caliber backs set to hit free agency in March, Harris has battled multiple injuries this season and seen Rhamondre Stevenson emerge as New England’s primary back. This certainly points to the former third-round pick needing to find another team to dole out his second contract.
  • Najee Harris also left his team’s most recent game due to injury, seeing an abdominal issue force him to leave the Steelers‘ Monday-night win over the Colts. Harris avoided a major injury, however, according to Rapoport (on Twitter). It is not certain the second-year back plays Sunday, but after he battled a Lisfranc issue this offseason, dodging another notable injury represents a nice break. The Steelers were without rookie backup Jaylen Warren in Indianapolis due to a hamstring injury and used veteran Benny Snell as their top ball-carrier.
  • The Commanders worked out a familiar NFC East back this week, bringing in Jordan Howard. The well-traveled back stopped through Washington for a Tuesday workout, Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 tweets. Former Panthers backup Reggie Bonnafon also took part in this audition. Howard spent time with the Saints this season, playing in two games, but New Orleans released the ex-Chicago and Philadelphia starter from its practice squad earlier this month.
  • Despite using one of their injury activations on Kylin Hill this year, the Packers cut bait recently. Matt LaFleur said conduct contributed to the transaction. “There are standards and expectations that are placed on every member of this team that we expect guys to live up to,” LaFleur said, via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. “He’s a guy we had high expectations for, and [I] realize he’s in a loaded room, but regardless of your role big or small, we expect guys to come to work and be supportive and own that role to the best of your ability. If you don’t do that, that’s what happened.” This certainly points to the second-year back voicing dissatisfaction with being behind Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon on Green Bay’s depth chart. No team claimed Hill, who is now a free agent.

Steelers’ T.J. Watt, Najee Harris Ruled Out With Injuries

9:40pm: Mike Giardi of NFL Network reports that a source has informed him that Harris’s foot injury is not considered serious. This is extremely optimistic news for the Steelers considering they were forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren in Harris’s absence.

4:08pm: Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets that Watt will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine if his and the team’s fears of a torn pectoral muscle are indeed true.

3:59pm: The Steelers have suffered injuries to arguably their two most irreplaceable players. Edge rusher T.J. Watt and running back Najee Harris have each been ruled out of the remainder of the team’s contest against the Bengals with pectoral and foot injuries, respectively (Twitter link via ESPN’s Brooke Pryor).

Watt appeared to suffer his injury in the fourth quarter. When walking off the field, he seemed to indicate that he had torn his pectoral muscle, Pryor’s colleague Field Yates tweets. Any significant absence for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year could be crippling for the Steelers.

Watt led the league in sacks for the second straight year in 2021, notching 22.5. That provided a fruitful return on investment for Pittsburgh, after they signed him to a four-year, $112MM deal in the lead-up to the campaign. The 27-year-old was only eclipsed by Aaron Donald this summer as the league’s highest-paid defender with annual average of over $28MM per year.

Even with Watt at full health, depth in the edge rush department had been seen as a need for the team this offseason. As a result, it came as little surprise when they traded for Malik Reed from the Broncos. He would be next in line to take on a starting role, and Pittsburgh would need to be active in looking for veteran additions in a similar vein to their Melvin Ingram addition last season.

The fact that Harris’ injury was a foot ailment is also concerning, given that fact that he suffered a Lisfranc sprain in training camp. He had recovered in time to play the Steelers’ season opener, though he only received 10 carries before exiting the game. After his Pro Bowl rookie season last year, Harris is expected to once again be a focal point of the team’s offense and would represent a massive loss in the event of an extended absence.

The Steelers have beaten the Bengals after a wild overtime finish, but the victory may very well have come at an enormous cost.

Latest On Najee Harris

There are plenty of unknowns with respect to the passing game in the Steelers’ passing offense, but their running game is set to once again be predicated on 2021 first-rounder Najee Harris

The Alabama product has been limited throughout the summer, however, due to a foot injury. Providing more context on the matter, Harris revealed that the ailment (suffered during the team’s first full practice at the start of training camp) was a Lisfranc sprain.

“I never did just get my foot stepped on,” he said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review“That is why I was out the majority of camp.” Harris added that the prognosis called for a four-to-six week recovery timetable, leaving him with a very light preseason workload. His only August action came yesterday, where he played with the offensive starters and totalled seven touches and 21 scrimmage yards.

Not surprisingly, the 24-year-old admitted that he is “just now getting over it.” More importantly, his ability to play yesterday points to him being fully recovered in time for the regular season. That will be a welcomed sight for the Steelers, of course; Harris ran for exactly 1,300 yards as a rookie, adding 467 yards in the passing game and scoring 10 total touchdowns. He was named a Pro Bowler as a result, and figures to be the focal point of the team’s offense again in 2022.

After he led the NFL in touches, though, Pittsburgh was reported to be in the market for a more proven depth option. Not long after, they signed former Titan Jeremy McNichols to compete with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland JrHarris still faces one of the heaviest workloads in the league, however, so his continued recovery in the build-up to Week 1 will be crucial to Pittsburgh’s success transitioning to an offense featuring many new faces.

Steelers Could Add RB; Najee Harris To Remain Workhorse

There aren’t many questions surrounding the Steelers’ approach to the running back position. As a rookie last season, Najee Harris put forth a workload worthy of a Pro Bowl selection and accounted for around 75% of Pittsburgh’s rush attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. While that may not sound overwhelming, the next closest player, Benny Snell Jr., only accounted for about 8% of the team’s rush attempts and 6% of the team’s rushing yards. Despite the seemingly small contribution, Snell is still the favorite to back up Harris next season, according to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly. 

The Steelers’ offensive backfield doesn’t have a ton of experience. The oldest running back on their roster, Trey Edmunds, 27, has never started a game, has 31 career carries, and hasn’t had a carry since November 2019. Every other running back on the roster is 24 years old or younger. After Kalen Ballage announced he was stepping away from the NFL to coach, Pittsburgh’s roster only holds three running backs who had carries for the Steelers in the 2021 season: Harris, Snell, and Anthony McFarland Jr. After them and Edmunds, the only backs on the roster are two undrafted rookies: Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren.

McFarland currently has too small a sample size to depend on. During his two years in the league, McFarland has played in 13 games, carrying the ball 36 times for 116 yards. Last year, he only appeared in two games. He had three carries and three yards in those two games. Whether it’s health, size, or ability, Snell is clearly the preferred backup option over McFarland right now.

Snell has had more opportunities to showcase his abilities than McFarland. Snell was around for two years before Harris showed up, backing up James Conner. In those two years, Snell got the opportunity to start five games and contribute in many more. Kaboly compiled the stats of Snell’s starts and any game in which he had at least 12 carries, a total of ten games. Omitting an anomalous start against Washington in 2020, Snell averaged 17 carries for 72 yards per game, averaging 4.2 yards per rush in those nine games. In a full season of those opportunities, Snell would project at 1,150 yards.

Snell’s body of work in previous seasons supports the argument that he can be relied upon as Harris’ relief. But, even if the Steelers did want to add another back to the stable, what options do they have? They have the option of having the backup running backs reflect the Ravens’ starters from last year following season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, as Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman are available. (Even if Le’Veon Bell were planning to play in 2022, and not focus on a potential boxing career, his Steelers past and recent performance likely makes him a non-starter here.) Past those three, veterans Carlos Hyde, David Johnson, and Devontae Booker are all free agents. Are any of these options an improvement on Snell? Potentially, but it may not be worth the money and playbook study necessary to bring them level with where Snell is at now.

More potential names could surface as team’s trim their rosters down to the final 53. Myles Gaskin in Miami, Chris Carson in Seattle, Tevin Coleman in New York, and D’Onta Foreman in Carolina could all be on the chopping block come late August and find themselves looking for work.

Still, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Pittsburgh doesn’t enter the 2022 season with a 1-2-3 of Harris-Snell-McFarland. As attractive as those other options may sound, Pittsburgh has no interest in reducing Harris’ carries. If healthy, Harris will continue his role as a bell-cow, with Snell and McFarland only appearing in rare moments of exhaustion or for special situations. McFarland has shown he can play in a situational role and Snell has proven he can be effective when given a bulk-carry opportunity (for instance, if Harris gets injured), but the importance of the question of who backs ups Harris is moot as long as Harris stays healthy.

Poll: Which Rookie Running Back Will Finish With Most Rushing Yards?

Quarterbacks, per usual, dominated this year’s pre-draft coverage. The Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, and four wide receivers then went off the board in the top 20. Running backs, as they have done in a few drafts over the past decade, waited.

While two went in Round 1, the Jaguars’ Travis Etienne pick preceded a 60-pick stretch during which just one running back — the Broncos’ Javonte Williams choice — went off the board. The 2021 draft matches 2016 and 2003 for the fewest backs chosen in the top 80 (three) in the common draft era (1967-present), continuing a grim era for this once-storied position. But several of this year’s draftees have quick paths to key roles.

Linked to Najee Harris ahead of the draft, the Steelers took the Alabama standout at No. 24. Harris will join a Steelers team that ranked last in rushing in 2020. Although the Alabama product scored 30 touchdowns in his senior season and topped 1,200 rushing yards in two straight years, he will now play behind an offensive line that went through considerable turnover this offseason. The Steelers lost 17 Pro Bowls on their offensive line this year. They will replace Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva with far less experienced players, and David DeCastro‘s replacement (Trai Turner) struggled in 2020. Will Harris’ talent be enough to overcome significant O-line concerns in Pittsburgh?

Etienne joins a Jags team that just saw James Robinson set the rookie UDFA record for scrimmage yards (1,414) despite missing two games in 2020. Jacksonville also signed Carlos Hyde, who played for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Etienne spent time at receiver during the Jags’ offseason program but should be expected to contribute heavily in the backfield. Like Harris, Etienne stayed in college for four years. He twice surpassed 1,600 rushing yards and totaled 78 college TDs — most of which coming alongside No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence — but will this unusual setup (for a first-round back, that is) translate to rookie-year production?

The Broncos traded up four spots for Williams in Round 2, Pro Football Focus’ top-rated back in this class, and chose the North Carolina product 36th overall. Williams teamed with Jets draftee Michael Carter to form one of the nation’s top backfield tandems. Williams compiled just one 1,000-yard season with the Tar Heels but led Division I-FBS with 75 broken tackles in 2020. The Broncos have Melvin Gordon signed through 2021, but the John Elway-era addition does not appear to be a lock to hold off Williams for the starting role.

The rest of the rookie field includes third-rounder Trey Sermon (49ers), Carter (fourth round, Jets) and a host of backs ticketed for early-career backup roles. While injuries certainly will hit the running back position, potentially forcing some of the later-round picks into the fray, Sermon and Carter have the best bets of seeing steady action among the mid- and late-round selections.

An Oklahoma and Ohio State product, Sermon also played four years. He averaged more than seven yards per carry in each of his past two, though he never topped 1,000 on the ground. Lead 49ers back Raheem Mostert is coming off an injury-marred season. The Jets added Tevin Coleman, who joined Mostert in missing most of last season, but do not have another back with much experience. This could allow Carter (two 1,000-yard years at North Carolina) early upward mobility, despite his 5-foot-8 frame.

Which rookie back will rush for the most yards in 2021? Who are the later-round candidates or UDFAs who can join these players as early contributors? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Steelers Sign First-Round Pick Najee Harris

The Steelers have their guy. Pittsburgh has officially signed first-round pick running back Najee Harris to his rookie contract, the team announced Tuesday.

It’ll be a four-year deal worth a fully guaranteed $13.1MM for the 24th overall pick. Harris will collect a signing bonus of $6.85MM. Harris to the Steelers was one of the most buzzed about connections leading up to the draft, and the rumors turned out to be accurate. He was the first running back off the board, taken one pick before Clemson’s Travis Etienne.

Pittsburgh was widely expected to draft a runner early, as they’ve emphasized the need for a revamped ground game after they got nothing from their rushing attack in 2020. They let James Conner walk in free agency, and opted for the former Alabama star to replace him.

Harris will slot in as the team’s immediate starter, and the Steelers are reportedly planning on having him play a big role as a pass-catcher. The California native rushed for a ridiculous 26 touchdowns last season, and averaged at least 5.8 yards per carry in all four of his college seasons.

He’ll now be lining up behind and next to Ben Roethlisberger, at least for one season. Harris has the talent to be a top back in the league, the question now is how the Steelers’ new-look offensive line will perform.

Steelers Select Alabama RB Najee Harris At No. 24

The Steelers have been connected to first-round running backs throughout the pre-draft process, and everyone’s inkling proved to be correct. With the No. 24 pick, Pittsburgh selected Alabama running back Najee Harris.

Initially buried on the depth chart, the Alabama product broke out as a junior in 2019 with an average of 5.9 yards per tote. Then, he passed on the draft to turn in an even more impressive 2020 season. Harris helped the Tide capture yet another National Championship while racking up 1,466 yards on the ground with similar efficiency (5.8 ypc). Those totals, coupled with 43 grabs for 425 yards and 30 total touchdowns, positioned Harris as one of the strongest prospects in the ’21 class.

Harris was connected to a number of RB-needy squads throughout the pre-draft process. While the prospect may lack the explosiveness of the NFL’s top running backs, he’s a dependable back who can contribute in every aspect of the offense. Those skills should allow Harris to see the field immediately for his new team. This is especially true in Pittsburgh, as the team lost top running back James Conner earlier this offseason. Harris will likely take the veteran’s place atop the depth chart, with Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, and Kalen Ballage serving as potential backups.

With this selection, Alabama has tied the 2004 Miami squad for most first-round picks in a single draft. Alabama’s count currently sits at six: Harris, WR Jaylen Waddle (No. 6, Dolphins), CB Patrick Surtain II (No. 9, Broncos), WR DeVonta Smith (No. 10, Eagles), QB Mac Jones (No. 15, Patriots), and OL Alex Leatherwood (No. 17, Raiders).