Najee Harris sought out Jerome Bettis shortly after being drafted by the Steelers last spring. Along with h/t Mark Kaboly of The Athletic), up roughly four pounds from what Harris said he weighed as a rookie., Harris has taken something else from the Hall of Fame running back’s playbook. Harris is currently 244 pounds (
That’s one pound heavier than Bettis was when he arrived in Pittsburgh in 1996.
Bettis used his size to rush for 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns during his first season in Pittsburgh. Harris is surely hoping to have similar success this season after re-writing the Steelers’ rookie record books in 2021. Despite playing behind a rebuilt offensive line, Harris still managed to run for a Steelers rookie record 1,200 yards. He also set the Steelers’ rookie record with 1,647 all-purpose yards. For his efforts, Harris earned Pro Bowl honors while helping the Steelers capture a playoff berth during Ben Roethlisberger’s final season.
The epitome of a physical running back, Bettis made a career out of bowling over smaller defenders. Bettis sees similar qualities in Harris, the first running back selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
“He’s the modern NFL power back,” Bettis said of Harris before the start of his rookie season. “He has the speed, he’s got the power, but he also has the hands to get out of the backfield and make plays outside of that offensive line.”
He may be a modern power back, but Harris plays in an old school system as far as the running back position is concerned. While many teams have gone to two-back systems, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin remains a fan of the featured back. That’s one of the reasons why the Steelers used a first round pick to acquire Harris, who helped lead Alabama to a national title his final season in Tuscaloosa.
Durability is critical for Harris, given how often the Steelers call his number. But despite last year’s heavy workload (Harris had 381 touches last season, 10 more than last year’s rushing champion, Jonathan Taylor), Harris constantly brushed off questions about his physical well being late in the 2021 season. He responded to those questions by having two of his best performances late in the season; a 93-yard rushing performance against the Chiefs in Week 16 and a 188-yard showing in a Week 17 win over Cleveland.
Harris will again be an integral part of Pittsburgh’s offense in 2022, but his workload may be lighter this season with the offseason additions of rookie receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III. Harris will also be aided by what should be an improved offensive line after the Steelers picked up interior linemen James Daniels and Mason Cole in free agency.
Regardless of how much he is used, Harris is preparing himself for another heavy workload in 2022. In the process, Harris will likely continue his assault on the Steelers’ rushing records while evoking memories of one of the team’s iconic backs of the past.