Not only did Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris lead the entire league in touches in 2021, he also recorded the most touches by a rookie, ever, without a fumble. It was one of the highest totals without recording a fumble in the history of the league, in fact, just one indication of not only his ability but willingness to handle the workload.
Speaking to Mike Florio for Pro Football Talk yesterday, he actually talked about the workload that he got in Pittsburgh in comparison to his experience at the college level at Alabama, and how he wants even more opportunities, if anything.
“The NFL, it was a pretty good workload, but I liked the workload”, he said of his 381-touch debut season. “I trained for a heavy workload, so, whenever it’s put upon me to have a heavy workload, it’d be nothing new to me. It was cool. I liked it”.
During his senior season at Alabama, Harris did record 294 touches in 13 games, but he noted that the way the games actually play out, he winds up spending a lot of time on the sidelines, something he doesn’t care for.
“Even at Alabama, I’d be mad because I wouldn’t play the fourth quarter at all. I would sometimes not even play the third quarter”, he said. “They always would take me out. I wanted that time where I could just play all four quarters and it’d be a challenging game from start to finish, so that’s what I got in the NFL”.
“There was never a point where I was like, ‘My body’s hurting, stop giving me the ball’”, he added of his rookie season. “I was telling them, ‘Can y’all give me the ball even more?’, because it seemed like if nobody else wanted the ball, I’ll get the ball. I just liked the challenge”.
The Steelers’ other running backs from last season’s 53-man roster consisted of Benny Snell, Kalen Ballage, and Anthony McFarland. The three of them combined for 56 touches on the entire season. Snell had over 100 touches in each of his first two seasons.
For his troubles, Harris did set a Steelers rookie record with 1667 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1200 yards even on 307 attempts, including seven rushing touchdowns. He also added another 74 receptions for 467 yards and three more touchdowns, leading the team in total touchdowns.
Not only did he receive a lot of touches, he also played 980 offensive snaps during the regular season, about 84 percent of the Steelers’ total, and that would have been higher—closer to 90—if it were not for a couple of games in which he got nicked up. He played at least 75 percent of the snaps in all but three games, including seven games with 95 percent or more.