There is no question that former Alabama star Najee Harris will be the featured back for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season after the team took Harris in the first round of the draft and let James Conner walk in free agency. The Pittsburgh rookie rushing record of 1,055 yards was set by future Hall of Famer Franco Harris in 1972. Could Najee Harris break that? Oddsmakers are listing him with an opening Over/Under of 1000.5 yards for the 2021 season (both -115). He is +1100 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Franco Harris was the No. 13 overall pick in the 1972 draft out of Penn State and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors that season by rushing for 1,055 yards on just 188 carries (5.6 yards per carry) in 14 games – the NFL hadn't gone to 16 games yet. Harris also had 21 catches for 180 yards and a TD. The Steelers have had two Offensive Rookie of the Year winners since: Receiver Louis Lipps in 1984 and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
Najee Harris was the No. 24 overall pick in this year's draft, the first time Pittsburgh chose a running back in the first round since Rashard Mendenhall out of Illinois in 2008. Mendenhall was limited to four games as a rookie due to a fractured shoulder and began the season behind Pro Bowler Willie Parker as it was.
Najee Harris will begin 2021 behind no one. The other tailbacks on the roster are free agent signing Kalen Ballage, 2020 fourth-round pick Anthony McFarland and Benny Snell, who roster spot reportedly is in major jeopardy. Snell got his chances last year but averaged only 3.3 yards per carry.
Pittsburgh rushed for the fewest yards (1,351) and yards per rush (3.6) in the NFL last season, but the offensive line has been overhauled with Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler all gone. Chukwuma Okorafor is the only returning starter and has to make the transition from right to left tackle to protect Big Ben's blind side.
Just a reminder that teams play 17 games this season, so that obviously would improve Najee Harris' chances of breaking Franco Harris' rookie rushing record. Most rookie dynasty Fantasy Football drafts have Najee going first overall. He will wear the same No. 22 he did at Alabama.
Pittsburgh is currently a 6.5-point underdog on the William Hill Sportsbook NFL odds for Week 1 in Buffalo. The SportsLine Projection Model forecasts Harris to rush for 60 yards on about 14 carries.
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