I can’t believe I have to write this, but Najee Harris should be going ahead of Austin Ekeler, Jonathan Taylor, and Nick Chubb. I predict he will finish as a Top 5 RB in PPR scoring formats propelling him into the No. 1 overall pick in redraft and Dynasty formats next year. The backs listed above aren’t terrible for fantasy — they just aren’t going to get the volume Najee will get and you need that type of volume to become the No. 1 overall pick in today’s fantasy landscape. Outlier touchdown seasons aren’t going to cut it anymore. This is apparently a pretty hot take, but I don’t think it should be. Najee Harris has the perfect storm to smash in his rookie year and I will prove it to you.
Here’s a “too long; didn’t read” version:
Najee Harris checks the three most important boxes for a rookie RB:
- First-Round Draft Capital
- At least 220 Pounds
- Projects for 300 + touches
**Yes, these cutoffs are arbitrary, but it should make sense that highly drafted big backs can turn into legendary workhorses. But hey don’t take my word for it, let’s take a look:
Just an absolutely sick list of rookie seasons. 413 touches from LT in his rookie year. Wild. I think, for the most part, this list passes the eye test. On average, these backs scored 263 PPR points in their rookie year. That would have been good for RB5 last season in PPR.
I currently have Najee Harris projected for 262 fantasy points in PPR leagues on 310 touches and I AM STANDING ON THE TABLE telling you to not leave your draft without him. This has no statistical basis, but the fact that my projection and the average above are nearly identical gives me more confidence.
If you keep reading, you’ll find that 262 PPR points is actually a pretty conservative projection. Either that or you can stop here and just trust me. Your call.
“The Steelers have a history of feeding their running backs a lot of touches” is something a lot of people that play fantasy football understand but let’s see if it’s actually true.
Steelers running backs under Mike Tomlin that check the 220-pound box and had at least 250 touches in a single season.
It’s no secret that Mike Tomlin has “a type”. Tomlin was hired as head coach of the Steelers ahead of the 2007 season. So in his 14-year coaching career, he has supported this type of back more often than not. (eight total seasons). The missing seasons in this chart are not cause for alarm either:
- 2007 – Willie Parker gets 352(!) touches, does little with them. Tomlin establishes that he prefers a workhorse back.
- 2008 – Mawelde Moore and Fast Willie Parker combine for over 270 PPR points. Parker’s size and lackluster production in 2007 on such high volume is likely the cause for the split.
- 2009-2011 – The reign of Rashard Mendenhall begins, who had Fast Willie Parker ahead of him his rookie year. Najee Harris does not have an incumbent veteran threatening to steal touches.
- 2012 – Mendenhall was hurt, leading them to go with a committee in a terrible season
- 2013-2014 – Lev Bell would be on the first chart with the other backs had he been selected in the first round. The Steelers were able to get their 220-pound workhorse in round two though.
- 2015 – Lev Bell is Injured in Week 8. DeAngelo Williams still goes for 247 touches and a smash season.
- 2016-2017 – Lev Bell continues his reign of terror.
- 2018 – James Conner steps right in as the next big workhorse back for the Steelers.
- 2019 – Just a mess of a running game and a collapse of the offensive line. This is likely why people are down on Najee this year, lol.
I think we can give Tomlin credit for absolutely feeding his backs in 11 out of his 14 seasons as head coach. Last year was the exception, not the rule. I thought I didn’t need to tell people that, yet here we are.
Sure, Conner couldn’t get it done behind last year’s offensive line. I think that’s the biggest snag here for people. Let me make something clear: I do not care how bad the line is.
I’m not an expert on offensive line continuity and performance (not a lot of people are, but it sure seems like it this year), but there are some experts on this topic in the fantasy community that I trust. ETR’s Brandon Thorn is one of them, so let’s see what he has to say about Steelers offensive line.
Admittedly, not great. However, his skepticism strikes me more like uncertainty than down-right pessimism, and honestly, anything is better than last year. Making bets on uncertain situations is how we gain huge edges on the field. Also, people are also assuming bad offensive line play automatically disqualifies an RB from having a monster season. This is a mistake.
If only we could compare Harris to a recent first-round rookie RB that weighs more than 220 pounds, got more than 300 touches in his rookie year, and was taken in the first round. Oh, what’s that you say, random non-existent advocate? Saquon Barkley had a bad offensive line? Did you really google offensive line analysis from 2018? You didn’t? I did. It’s an eerily similar situation:
Damn. rookie-year Barkley must have really struggl–. 382 touches, 385 PPR points annnnnnddddd an RB1 overall finish ahead of CMC. Please do not hear what I am NOT saying. This is not a Najee = Barkley take. This is a “Rookie RBs can get a lot of touches behind a bad or inconsistent offensive line and still succeed” take.
Nest seed of doubt: Big Ben is done. Again, I get it, but all reports out of camp have been positive. Either way, a dusted Ben can still dump the ball off to our sweet prince Najee Harris and motivate Tomlin to put it in Harris’s belly 20+ times a game.
I currently have Najee Harris projected for 262 fantasy points in PPR leagues. That, to me, is a very conservative projection given what I just laid out. Remember, 220lb running backs under Mike Tomlin AVERAGE 332 touches in a season. My projections have him getting about 310 touches this year. Given Najee’s successful pre-season, lack of competition for touches, size, and high draft capital I think he can easily push for upwards of 350 touches which would absolutely light the fantasy football landscape on fire.
There were a lot of small samples and some anecdotal evidence here but usually, my gut feeling on these things doesn’t always line up with the numbers. Here they did… way more than I expected. Hopefully, I was able to convince some of you before it’s too late. Let me know why I’m wrong on Twitter @run_the_sims.
Also, shoutout to the RotoViz Screener App. A seriously cool tool if you like the charts in this article. Well worth the subscription.