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Najee Harris Steelers
NFL

Is Najee Harris In Danger Of Losing Starting Job?

  • Justin Melo
  • November 9, 2022
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The 2-6 Pittsburgh Steelers are reeling coming out of their bye week. Desperation has reached an all-time high and change is necessary. Steelers running back Najee Harris is at risk of forfeiting touches to impressive undrafted rookie ball carrier Jaylen Warren, according to multiple reports. Harris may find himself losing influence in the backfield as a dwindling season continues to progress.

The No. 24 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Harris has been one of the league’s most disappointing performers this season. The former Alabama standout has rushed for just 361 yards and one touchdown on 108 attempts through eight appearances. He’s averaging a pathetic 3.3 yards per carry. That mark is the lowest in football among running backs with 100-plus rushing attempts.

Harris has added 24 receptions for an additional 112 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Harris is struggling to create in the passing game. His involvement has been near or around the line of scrimmage and he’s struggled to create after the catch, averaging a pedestrian 4.7 yards per reception.

By comparison, Warren has impressed despite receiving limited touches. Warren has rushed for 153 yards on 29 carries. That means Warren is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. It’s a full 2.0 yards per carry better than Harris is achieving. Increasing Warren’s touches out of the bye is a straightforward conclusion.

Warren has also been more productive as a pass catcher on a per-reception basis. He’s averaging 2.6 yards more per reception (7.3 yards per catch versus Harris’ 4.7 mark). Involving Warren more as a pass-catcher is an expected outcome moving forward.

The advanced analytics continue favoring Warren. The former Snow College, Utah State, and Oklahoma State (yes, Warren played collegiately at three programs) alum is averaging 3.31 yards after contact per attempt, via Pro Football Focus. He’s been more elusive than Harris, who is averaging 2.66 yards in the same metric.

Warren has forced nine missed tackles on 29 carries, or 0.31 missed tackles per carry (29). Harris is averaging 0.20 missed tackles per carry (22 forced missed tackles on 108 rushing attempts), via PFF. Warren is accounting for one explosive run (10-plus yards) every 0.24 carries (seven explosive runs on 29 attempts) whereas Harris has been extremely inefficient in this area, averaging a shockingly low 0.083 explosive runs per touch (just nine 10-plus-yard gains on 108 carries). Warren is doing more with less.

Harris has faced a stacked box of eight or more defenders on 21 carries, gaining just 48 yards, via ESPN Stats and Info. Warren, meanwhile, rushed against a stacked box three times for 15 yards. Warren is averaging 5.0 yards per carry in those situations to Harris’ 2.3, albeit via a tinier sample size.

Pittsburgh’s struggles extend well beyond Harris. It’s no secret they’ve done their sophomore ball-carrier no favors by surrounding him with a less-than-desirable supporting cast at quarterback and across the offensive line. But it becomes increasingly difficult to defend Harris’ lack of productivity when Warren is achieving better numbers with the identical supporting cast.

Harris’ ceiling remains high and it’s difficult to envision a long-term scenario where he’s involved in a 50-50 timeshare alongside Warren. Steelers general manager Omar Khan will spend the upcoming offseason building a better environment around Harris and Kenny Pickett. Shifting their backfield strategy may help the Steelers secure more victories in the meantime, however.

Written By

Justin Melo