Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris was one of the top options for fantasy football last season. He had the most touches out of any skill player and handled his heavy workload well. However, the Steelers offense will be changing after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement and the introduction of potential new quarterbacks. Will Harris’ workload and production be the same in 2022 with Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett now under center?
2022 Fantasy Football Outlook: Najee Harris
Harris had one of the best rookie rushing seasons that the Steelers have ever seen. He broke Franco Harris’ rookie rushing yards record and broke 1,200 yards in 2021. He also had ten total touchdowns; seven of them rushing. But his impressive stats come from a lot of hard work; Harris had a total of 381 total touches, which led the NFL. He was a workhorse all season, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be utilized much less in 2022.
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Harris finished as the RB4 in 2021, compiling well over 220 points in the season. In fact, he finished as a top-six positional player, behind just three other running backs and two receivers (Cooper Kupp and Deebo Samuel). Despite poor offensive line play, his tremendous strength allowed him to get more yards after contact.
One thing that will impact Najee Harris in 2022 is the Steelers offensive situation. In 2021, he was in a balanced offense that became a run-dependent team after Ben Roethlisberger started declining. Despite amassing 1,200 yards, Harris had to play behind one of the worst offensive lines. But with the offensive system revamped by new options on the line and under center, will Harris return to his rookie year-level production.
One of the biggest what-ifs right now is how the Steelers will run their offense. No matter who they name the starting quarterback, whether it be Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, or Kenny Pickett, they will be much more mobile than Big Ben was. This certainly opens up the playbook quite a bit and could limit some of Harris’ touches, but not too many.
Also, the Steelers signed several free agent interior offensive lineman that should revive their once-great line. Even if they can return to being a middle-of-the-pack line in the NFL, there will be some drastic results. Harris and the other backs will start to see more holes, and the possibility of longer runs becomes much more likely.
If the Steelers want Harris to remain a starting back for years to come, they’re going to have to limit him and keep him healthy. Throwing him out there to take hits 300+ times a year for a few years will shorten his career. Harris is special, and the Steelers know that; preserving him, his talents, and his incredible strength for years is one of their recipes for success.
It is now known that Harris will likely take on a smaller workload in 2022. This doesn’t mean that he’ll lose 100 or more touches, but I assume he’ll have approximately 30 less this season. He averaged roughly 22 touches per game, and I estimate he only gets 18-20 this year. It isn’t a big loss, but that could mean maybe 100 yards lost over the season and up to ten fantasy points lost.
This season, I believe Harris will once again reach 1,000 yards and top out around 1,100-1,300 yards over the 17-game season. He only scored seven touchdowns on the ground last year, and this season, he is likely to get more red-zone touches with either a rookie or an inexperienced quarterback running the offense; after all, they’ll need a dependable, tough option inside the 20-yard line.
Average Draft Position
Harris is projected to be the RB5 drafted in most leagues, behind only Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Christian McCaffrey, and Derrick Henry. In fact, he is listed as being taken at sixth overall in most reputable mock drafts (ESPN, CBS, etc…), with only the four running backs and Cooper Kupp listed as being above Harris. He is without a doubt worth a first-round draft pick in any league with eight or more players. Najee Harris averages being taken anywhere from the fourth to eighth overall selection in most drafts. He won’t disappoint fantasy owners in 2022 barring any injuries; it’s just a question of how his team’s offense is run and how much Pittsburgh’s offensive line has improved.