When evaluating former Alabama RB Najee Harris during his junior season (2019) I wrote the following in my notes: “Utilized as a receiver, but not natural at it. Likely won’t be his role in the NFL”.
Fast forward to Harris’ rookie season and he is making NFL history. Per Rotoviz, since 2000, there are the most target to a rookie RB through the first five games of their career:
1. Reggie Bush – 40
2. Najee Harris – 39
3. Saquon Barkley – 39
4. Christian McCaffrey – 36
Thankfully, Harris returned for his senior season so I didn’t look like a fool. He improved as a receiver showcased insane ability in that area making it obvious he would be utilized in the NFL as a pass catcher.
The Steelers offense has been a struggle, so Ben Roethlisberger checking down to Harris has ben a mainstay. But we have seen a variety of routes run by Harris including Swing, Wheel, Stab, and even some Option routes. It isn’t typical for a 230 pound RB to be that type of receiver (Saquon Barkley aside) but Harris is doing it and should continue to be one of the main receiving threats for the Steelers.
The truth is, Harris has struggled running the football. A big part of it is the Offensive Line, but Harris himself hasn’t showcased high end vision nor the cutting ability to find big runs. He seems to be improving, especially as the Steelers offense gels, but the receiving ability will stick as his bread and butter.
Is Harris the 2nd coming of Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey? No, not even close. But, his career will be highlighted by being a consistent receiver out of the backfield who can punish in space. That may even end up being Harris’ bread and butter late in his career in a platoon. His historic pace isn’t likely to stay, but the Steelers may end up leaning on him while they try to find their next franchise QB.