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Second-Year Scouting Report: Najee Harris

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Rookies get all the attention. They’re the flashy new piece that could be anything. And then a class of rookies comes through and they’re old news, replaced by the next flashy, new thing. But last year’s rookies aren’t gone, and in many cases, they’re going to be even better than the exciting new pieces that are just showing up.

 

Of course, sometimes they won’t be, and that matters too. So as we head toward training camp, preseason, and then the start of the 2022 NFL season, we’re taking a look at last year’s rookie class. What did we think about last year’s rookie class? What worked? What didn’t? And what’s the prognosis for them going forward?

Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers 

Najee Harris was selected with the 24th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. As soon as the Steelers drafted him, he was in line to become the lead back on the roster. This was no surprise as many sites had him as their top running back in the draft, including NFL.com. They enjoyed the fact that at his size he could not only use his strength to win in one-on-one situations but also had some wiggle to his game as well. On top of this, they also highlighted the fact that he had the ability to run good routes, while also possessing soft hands helping create an above-average pass-catching ability. On the flip side, he displayed a lack of patience at times, as he looked like he was in a hurry to the line, ultimately outrunning his blocks. On top of this, he also lacked that game-breaking speed needed to change a game at any moment, especially out of his cuts as he displayed average at best burst. Even with these concerns, he was one of the highest drafted rookies in fantasy football, especially in dynasty as he was selected first in most rookie drafts. Even when it came to redraft, he was the 18th player off the board, ahead of guys like Joe Mixon and D’Andre Swift.

Najee Harris Second-Year Scouting Report

What Went Right

Najee Harris was a roaring success for fantasy in 2021, finishing the season as the RB3 in PPR. It became clear early on last season that he was the clear workhorse running back many fantasy managers hoped for, ultimately seeing a league-leading 381 touches – touching the ball on 34% of the Steelers’ plays per game. As a receiver, he had 74 reception on 94 targets for 467 yards and 3 scores, accounting for nearly half (46%) of his 300.7 PPR points. He also had 1,200 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground on 307 attempts.

What Went Wrong

For fantasy, not a lot went wrong for Najee Harris as a rookie, but as an overall football player, a few things stood out. He only averaged 3.91 yards per carry, 22nd among 30 running backs who saw at least 150 carries. Some of this inefficiency can be accredited to the offensive line, especially when 918 of his yards were after contact. However, we did see him struggle with decisiveness at times in the backfield, which is something to monitor going forward. Secondly, he was credited with eight drops in 2021, per the FTN Fantasy advanced receiving stats, second most among running backs—his 9.8% drop rate was eighth highest among the 25 backs who saw 50-plus targets.

 

Prognosis Entering 2022

Little has changed for Najee Harris, as the Steelers failed to address the need for a secondary option in the backfield or do much for the offensive line. The only major change headed his way is at the quarterback position — whether it’s Mitch Trubisky under center or Kenny Pickett has yet to be seen, but either way, it isn’t likely to help Harris’ fantasy production. Last year, he saw a lot of dumpoffs when plays broke down due to Ben Roethlisberger’s late-career lack of mobility — with more mobile options like Trubisky and Pickett, some of those dumpoffs will turn into scrambles. That could lower Harris’ fantasy ceiling. Strictly based on volume, Harris feels pretty safe to be an RB1 in fantasy, but perhaps closer to the back end of that group, and he could fall all the way out if the overall offense struggles.

As far as his career trajectory goes, Harris is likely to see huge volume for the next few years, making him an excellent dynasty asset. On the flip side of this, he was an old rookie. Harris is also already 24 years old, which places him closer to the dreaded age cliff for running backs than players like Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift and Javonte Williams. This does not mean you should be looking to trade him now, but the age is something to keep in mind down the line as his value will only start to depreciate over the years – possibly sooner than later. 

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