And with that, football is back. There will be football games every week from now until February 2022. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and while we still have to wait a little over a month before games actually start counting, being able to see how certain players fit into their team’s system is a treat in and of itself. During last night’s Hall of Fame game between the Steelers and Cowboys, there were a few players everyone was going to have their eyes on: Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons and Steelers backup QB Dwayne Haskins, are two. I was really excited to see Tyler Biadasz as Dallas’ starting center after a few weeks of offseason workouts. I liked him as a prospect out of Wisconsin, but he didn’t exactly “thrive” in his rookie season. The most intriguing player last night though was undoubtedly Steelers runningback Najee Harris.
As the 24th pick (and 1st running back selected) in the 2021 NFL Draft, Harris is expected to contribute to the Steelers’ offense right away. He’s set to be the next in a long line of great Steelers halfbacks following the departure of former Pro Bowler James Conner and Le’Veon Bell before him. The road ahead for Harris isn’t an easy one. This offseason the Steelers parted ways with one of their longest tenured O-linemen. He’s going to have to face Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney twice a year. The Ravens are always a stifling defense, and Ben Roethlisberger gives away whether every play will be a run or pass prior to the snap. Not exactly what I’d call “the best situation.” That being said, I know it was just for a short time, but Najee Harris looked really good last night.
Seven carries for 22 yards, one reception on one target for three yards, and two first downs. That stat line isn’t too impressive, but it doesn’t do justice to what Harris did. Despite Dallas playing several of their projected defensive starters, Harris was still able to break through for several solid runs. Did he ever break through and take one to the house? No, but seeing as how the Cowboys’ defense all but ignored Mason Rudolph as a passing threat, Harris held his own.
Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, “I thought [Harris] showed some of the things he’s been showing in practice settings...that’s what we were looking for. It’s a really good start for him.”
Of course, how Harris will actually be used come regular season is still a mystery. NFL teams are notorious for hiding their best plays during the preseason so that opponents don’t get good film ahead of Week 1. That just furthers the idea that Harris will thrive when the regular season starts though. As Steelers’ backup QB Mason Rudolph said, “[Harris] was ready for prime time.”
During the three drives he played, in which Harris was the only Halfback to see the field, Harris showed a remarkable ability to push forward and gain extra yards after contact — a trait that the Steelers’ sorely needed last season. In 2020, Conner and Benny Snell, Jr. ranked 30th and 37th respectively in yards after contact per rushing attempt. Harris not only brings that ability to the table, but also brings solid hands and enough speed to get to the edge when necessary. He fits the Steelers’ mold extraordinarily well.