NFL

Najee Harris prepared to take on 500-carry workload for Steelers in 2022

By Sports Desk July 22, 2022

After leading the NFL in touches during a strong rookie season, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris is ready for another heavy workload – even a historic one - if it leads to another trip to the playoffs.

"I can get 500," Harris said in an interview on The Rich Eisen Show. "If I get 500 carries, as long as we're winning, it doesn't really matter."

Harris accumulated 381 touches during the 2021 regular season, the most by a rookie since Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson's 398 in 2001. The Pro Bowler said he's prepared to increase that total if again called upon to be the focal point of an offense that will be breaking in a new starting quarterback following the offseason retirement of franchise icon Ben Roethlisberger.

"The more carries you get, the better you are," Harris said. "You get more of a feel for the game, you get an understanding of how the defense is playing. Obviously, you wear them down."

Harris' quick transition to the NFL game indeed played a big part in the Steelers reaching the postseason for the sixth time in eight years. Pittsburgh went 6-0-1 when the former Alabama star had 20 or more rushing attempts in a game and was 3-7 when he was under that mark.

The 2021 first-round pick accounted for 29.8 per cent of the Steelers' yards from scrimmage. Only Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (35.4 per cent) and Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (29.9 per cent) had a higher share of their team's scrimmage yards last season.

Harris takes great pride in being able to contribute on all three downs in an era where skill players are becoming more specialised, and disputed any notion his heavy usage made him less effective.

"I didn't have an issue with it, it was the media that had an issue with it," he told Eisen. "I told them every game, I was like, 'Man, if this is the way to winning, I can carry the load'. I train to carry loads. It's not something I hadn't done before. I did it in college, high school."

A further increase in responsibility would put Harris in some very select company, as only five players in NFL history have recorded 450 or more touches in a season. Tampa Bay's James Wilder holds the league record of 492, set for the Buccaneers in 1984, while the last to eclipse that threshold was Larry Johnson for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006.

"This is our identity right here," Harris said of the Steelers' run-based approach. "So, let's keep this going on."

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