Guess what time it is? Best shape of his life season is back!
Steelers running back Najee Harris had, by all accounts, a strong individual 2021 rookie campaign. He had 1,200 yards on 307 carries, seven rushing touchdowns, and 467 more receiving yards. Heading into 2022, however, Harris is looking to improve upon an already-impressive campaign.
According to Mark Kaboly at The Athletic, Harris is reportedly entering training camp at 244 pounds, a pound more than Jerome Bettis weighed in his prime. Kaboly wisely added Harris is “all quads and hamstrings,” attempting to curb the inevitable concerns about weight.
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Bettis has had high praise for Harris since the Steelers picked him.
“These running backs are not a dime a dozen,” Bettis said last year after the Steelers took him 24th, per NFL.com. “People are inclined to think ‘Ahh, you can find one in the later rounds.’ You can’t find a good one. What you find in the later rounds are all small running backs. The big backs weren’t there late. You know why? Because there aren’t any. When you find one, you got to get him, quick.”
Najee Harris stats compared to Jerome Bettis
Here’s how Harris stacked up to Bettis in his rookie season:
|Player||Carries||Yards||Yards per carry||TDs||Broken Tackles|
|Jerome Bettis||294||1,429||4.9||7||Data not available|
Bettis was, of course, unbelievable in his rookie year. He won Rookie of the Year, was an All-Pro, and had Pro Bowl honors. While the expectation Harris becomes Bettis is incredibly premature, Bettis laid out the blueprint for him.
The goal for Harris is now to do what Bettis didn’t: improve as a sophomore. Bettis saw all of his numbers go down in his second season, partially because teams keyed in on the Rams’ power running game. Harris will have to be versatile to be better this year.
The good news for Harris is that Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement could open the offense up to a degree. The Steelers didn’t have much of a vertical passing game last season, and it translated on the stat sheet. If Mitchell Trubisky is able to stretch the field, Harris could reap some benefits.
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Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Leonard Fournette all struggled in their second years, with Fournette battling injuries. Harris will look to be more like Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey, who saw some areas of improvement as second-year players.
Here’s a look at how previous highly drafted running backs (and Kamara) saw their numbers change between their first to second seasons. Keep in mind Barkley, Elliott and Fournette all missed time in their second seasons, whereas Kamara was fully implemented into the offense and McCaffrey was healthy for the first time.
|Player||Carries||Yards||TDs||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Yards from scrimmage|
For Harris, availability will be key. In a league where it’s harder than ever for rookies to stay healthy, Harris appears to be taking the proper steps in the offseason to ensure he moves forward.
Now he’ll just need to apply to the field come 2022, where he’ll be asked to carry the load for a lot of the Pittsburgh offense and continue to be a featured back under Mike Tomlin.