Throughout a podcast look earlier this week, Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin informed listeners that he anticipated second-year halfback Najee Harris to be a “bell cow” for the crew this season.
I discovered this remark unusual on condition that Harris was already a bell cow final yr. Harris was second within the NFL in rushing attempts final season, trailing solely Jonathan Taylor. Harris carried the ball 307 occasions throughout his rookie marketing campaign, the 16th-most carries for a rookie ever. He averaged 3.9 yards per try. Since 2010, just one different time has a halfback age-23 or youthful rushed greater than 300 occasions in a single season whereas averaging fewer than 4 yards a carry — 2010 Rashard Mendenhall.
You’d assume the Steelers would’ve realized to not push their younger operating backs so onerous after Mendenhall. The 2008 first-round choose retired early at 26. Whereas Mendenhall by no means explicitly stated that accidents performed a think about his resolution, claiming that he was simply accomplished with soccer and wished to “travel the world and write,” he did additionally state that he now not wished to place his physique in danger for the sake of leisure.
Mendenhall was riddled with accidents all through his profession. Most notably, he suffered a shoulder harm in 2008, adopted by a torn ACL in 2011, and a nasty case of turf toe in his ultimate season with Arizona, 2013. We actually began seeing Mendenhall’s downfall after that ACL tear, at age-24, one yr after Mendenhall carried the ball 300-plus occasions. Do you see the place I’m going with this?
The identical can type of be stated for Le’Veon Bell, as properly. Bell was the belle of the ball amongst NFL operating backs early in his profession, however guess what? After carrying the ball 290 occasions in 2014, he missed 10 video games in 2015 on account of harm. After carrying the ball greater than 300 occasions in 2017, he didn’t like his utilization and sat out all of 2018. Then, we began seeing a decline in manufacturing. The Steelers are about to do the identical factor to Harris: Run him into the bottom. That’ll be the third franchise halfback in lower than twenty years that has fallen sufferer to the Steelers’ huge dependence on franchise backs.
And right here’s the factor. I’d be keen to let that slide if there was any indication that the Steelers run blocking can be rather more environment friendly in 2022, however that’s not the case. The crew spent an astonishing ZERO draft picks to shore up an offensive line that ranked twenty eighth in adjusted line yards for run blocking in 2021.
In all equity although, guard Kevin Dotson did miss half the season final yr, the crew acquired heart Mason Cole (nice run blocker, terrible cross blocker) and guard James Daniels within the offseason, and maybe left deal with Dan Moore Jr. can enhance upon his underwhelming rookie season, however that’s loads of ‘ifs’, ‘and’s, and fingers being crossed hoping that the whole lot comes collectively. I’m not shopping for it. Possibly the quarterback play will enhance, thus taking the load of shouldering the offense off Harris, however Mitch Trubisky isn’t an improve, and so far as we will inform rookie Kenny Pickett’s timeline for turning into the crew’s beginning quarterback remains to be undetermined.
Mainly, Harris will doubtless be working with a equally incompetent offensive line unit and quarterback (no less than for now) whereas taking up an excellent heavier workload than he was given final yr and certain gained’t even be that environment friendly. Come on!
There’s a purpose so many NFL groups are choosing committee approaches to their backfields these days. Placing all of your eggs in a single half-basket (buh dum tss) not solely limits their longevity within the NFL, but additionally forces you to pay them rather more cash when their contract expires. Even somebody as sturdy as Derrick Henry didn’t attain 200 carries till his third season. He was given time to regulate to the NFL and labored in a committee for just a few years earlier than turning into the King. Whereas Henry did endure a critical harm final yr, he was some of the sturdy backs within the league previous to 2021, even at 27 years previous. Look what wonders limiting Henry’s workload early in his profession did for the Titans’ franchise. Harris doesn’t have Henry’s dimension although, and that solely makes limiting his workload early in his profession all of the extra necessary.
Harris is an incredible expertise with loads of potential. If performed proper, Harris might have a protracted, affluent NFL profession that followers ooh and awe over for a decade. Don’t deprive us of that Pittsburgh. Don’t you set that evil on him!