Najee Harris is in the best possible position for a fantasy football rookie running back this season. The 6-foot-1, 232 lb Alabama-product projects as the leading rusher in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. Currently listed with an RB13 ADP at UnderdogFantasy, Harris has the talent and situation to finish the year as a high-end RB1. He just needs to overcome one obstacle.
Najee Harris Fantasy Football Profile
Pittsburgh Offensive Line Concerns
The Steelers offensive line struggled throughout last season, especially in the rushing game. Per FootballOutsiders, Pittsburgh ranked dead-last in adjusted line yards (3.78) and running back yards (3.82), and second-worst in second-level yards (1.02). They will also enter the 2021 season with the most offensive line turnover in recent memory.
The Steelers will have four new starters after releasing six-time Pro Bowler David DeCastro in late June. DeCastro is the only NFL offensive lineman to be selected to the last six consecutive Pro Bowls. Center Maurkice Pouncey retired, removing the last remaining piece from what used to be Pittsburgh’s biggest area of strength.
The Steelers' starting offensive line Week One two years ago.
LT – Alejandro Villanueva
LG – Ramon Foster
C – Maurkice Pouncey
RG – David DeCastro
RT – Matt Feiler
None of them are with the team anymore. End of an era. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) June 24, 2021
The Steelers are hoping 28-year old Trai Turner can return to the player that reached five consecutive Pro Bowls with Carolina from 2015-2019. Turner missed most of the 2020 season with a groin strain but appears completely healthy after being cut by the Chargers.
The Steelers need to find rushing game efficiency. Pittsburgh had the second-highest pass percentage (65.5 percent), trailing only Jacksonville last season. With reports of Roethlisberger’s arm strength at an all-time low, the offense needs to find a better balance to keep defenses on their toes. James Conner and Benny Snell combined for 280 of their 373 rushing attempts, yet they ranked 17th and 58th in evaded tackles per touch. Pittsburgh provided limited rushing attempts to running backs who struggled to generate missed tackles. Conner or Snell failed to record a PPR RB1 performance after Week 6.
The Pittsburgh rushing struggles are even more alarming when you consider their divisional opponents. Baltimore (10th), Cleveland (19th), and Cincinnati (21st) all ranked outside the Top 10 in rushing DVOA. Besides an early-season 38-7 win over Cleveland, Pittsburgh totaled just 315 yards on 91 carries for a 3.46 yards per carry average against divisional opponents.
Najee Harris Impact
Pittsburgh committed significant draft capital to the selection of Alabama’s Najee Harris with the 24th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. He was an accomplished rusher and receiver in college, tallying over 1900 total yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior. Most importantly, he is an elite pass-catcher with 13.4% (90th percentile) College Target Share. Over his last two years at Alabama, Harris totaled 70 receptions and 729 receiving yards for a robust 10.1 yards per reception.
Harris’ bruising style is a perfect fit for the type of rusher that has found success for the Steelers. His 6-foot-1, 232 lb frame is strong enough to run over defenders, while using superior vision to identify running lanes.
Najee Harris is a scheme versatile talent. He has the power & contact balance for the gap scheme.
Also, the foot quickness, vision, & ability to manipulate defenders in zone.
— Damian Parson 🏈 (@DP_NFL) July 11, 2021
Harris will be given every chance to be Pittsburgh’s bellcow running back, especially with the departure of Conner to Arizona. Conner vacates 169 rushing attempts and leaves just Snell, Anthony McFarland, and journeyman Kalen Ballage as depth chart competition.
Per Warren Sharp, the Pittsburgh schedule should provide Harris with favorable opportunities. The Steelers will face the fifth-easiest schedule of run defenses in rushing efficiency and explosive rushing rate allowed. In fact, five of their six opponents before their Week 7 bye ranked in the bottom half of defensive DVOA last season.
Week 1: at Buffalo (17th)
Week 2: Las Vegas (28th)
Week 3: Cincinnati (21st)
Week 4: at Green Bay (18th)
Week 5: Denver (25th)
Week 6: Seattle (7th)
Harris’ skill set provides him every opportunity to be as much of a rookie workhorse as Le’Veon Bell was in 2013. In that season, Bell tallied 1259 total yards, 45 receptions, and eight touchdowns. The equates to 218.9 PPR fantasy points, which is last year’s overall RB10. Can his talent and projected volume overcome offensive line concerns with a 39-year old starting quarterback?
Najee Harris Fantasy Football Projection
The comparison to Le’Veon Bell is reasonable, especially given Harris’ first-round draft capital and Pittsburgh’s desperate need for a running back. His versatility as a receiver provides both a stable fantasy floor and high-end RB1 upside. A reasonable projection of 1200 total yards, 34 receptions, and eight touchdowns makes him a nice value as the current RB14 (ADP 22.6) on UnderdogFantasy.
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