There are some who believe Najee Harris was too heavily utilized in his breakout rookie season that coincided with the retirement tour of Ben Roethlisberger, and that faction of analysts are about to do some very real pearl-clutching if the former first-round pick has his way in 2022. The 24-year-old led the NFL in 2021 with 381 touches — the first rookie in the history of the league to have more than 300 carries and greater than 70 receptions — but he recently noted an expectation that the Pittsburgh Steelers would potentially lighten his load for the coming season.
That is obviously no guarantee, with Roethlisberger retired but a ton of uncertainty at the quarterback position going forward at Hei-… er … um … Acrisure Field, and Harris readily understands this. And given that understanding, he says he’s ready for as many touches in 2022 as the Steelers are prepared to give him, even if that means decimating the record he said last season in that category.
Rumors of his weight gain were overstated, Harris made clear weeks ago, and he’s primed for action.
“I’ll get 500 [touches],” he told “The Rich Eisen Show” ahead of training camp. “Listen, I didn’t have an issue with it. It was the media who had an issue with it. I told them every game, ‘If this is the way we’re winning, I can carry the load.’ I train to carry loads.
“It’s not something that I haven’t done before. I did it in college, high school, NFL. For me to get that much carries, I was like, man, is we winning games? It was a long streak where someone was saying if I have 25 carries, then we’re undefeated.”
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For reference, and to prove Harris’ point, his last season with the Crimson Tide saw him amass 294 touches for 1,891 yards and 30 touchdowns, and Alabama went on to win the national championship that season with Harris also garnering honors as SEC Championship Game MVP. This means what he did as an NFL rookie was nothing new to him, and he’s perfectly OK with doing it again, and again, and again — for as many seasons as the Steelers need him to.
“So, OK, this is our identity right here,” he added. “Let’s keep this going on, let’s keep this going. Listen, if I get 500 carries, as long as we’re winning, it doesn’t really matter.”
Of course, there’s often a difference between wishing for something and the reality of what comes with receiving it, because running backs in the NFL have one of the shortest shelf lives around — given the punishment they take on a regular basis — and the Steelers understand this, which is why Harris initially stated there’s a chance his touches move in the opposite direction with the obvious goal of extending the career of what’s already become an integral piece of the Steelers future.
But that would also require solid quarterback play, and training camp will open with an all-out competition between Mitch Trubisky, [rookie] Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph and Chris Oladokun. As for which of the four Harris predicts will emerge as QB1 for the team’s Week 1 opener against the Cincinnati Bengals?
He has no idea. The Pro Bowler is simply ready to do his job.
“I’m just a player. I’m not the coach.”