Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris made a strong impression on his teammates and the rest of the NFL during a rookie year in which he rushed for 1,200 yards and made the Pro Bowl. But he’s made an even stronger impression at this week’s OTAs, where one can’t help but notice that Harris looks bigger, stronger and faster than ever before.
The subject of Harris’ new-look physique came up on May 25, when fourth-year tight end Zach Gentry appeared on Steelers Nation Radio with Wes Uhler and former Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats.
“There’s kind of a new mindset on the offense,” said the 6-foot-8 tight end. “I think we’re going to work hard to establish a dominant running game, which is going to open up the play-action pass.”
At that point the conversation turned to Harris, who is entering his second season after having been the team’s first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft out of Alabama.
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Najee Harris: Action Figure Come to Life?
“Najee Harris, not that he didn’t look impressive in the past, but Moats was saying earlier that he looks like one of those G.I. Joe action figures now we used to play with as kids,” said Uhler, a description that resonated with Gentry, who figures to serve as second-string tight end this season.
“Absolutely, he was an action figure already,” continued the former Michigan Wolverine. “Think about how explosive he was last year. He looks even more explosive this year. He is making some moves and spinning and twisting…. He really looks fantastic. It’s amazing to see even a guy that looked so good his rookie year be even more comfortable his second year — being as productive as he was last year.
Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tried to illustrate how Harris is looking and moving with cell phone video from a Steelers OTA, though he struggled to keep up with Harris’ moves, much to the chagrin of followers, who didn’t hesitate to criticize the camera work.
The fact that Harris looks noticeably bigger and stronger this year doesn’t bode well for defenders, who frequently resorted to gang tackling to bring him down during his rookie year. Recall too that defensive backs who encountered him in the open field were often the victims of a Najee Harris stiff-arm, as the following stiff-arm mixtape illustrates:
The Rest of the Pittsburgh’s Running Backs Room
Of course, the Steelers are going to need Harris to maximize his talents if Pittsburgh’s offense hopes to reach its potential. Not only will the team have a new starting quarterback, the running back depth probably isn’t as good as one would like, with fourth-year back Benny Snell Jr. the odds-on favorite to serve as Harris’ primary backup and third-year back Anthony McFarland Jr. a change of pace option.
There are also high hopes for rookie undrafted free agent Mataeo Durant (Duke), who received $15,000 to sign with the Steelers. Durant averaged 5.24 yards per carry during his college career, and set a new single-season school record in 2021 by rushing for 1,241 yards.
Durant is one of two rookie UDFAs at the position, the other being Jaylen Warren (Utah State/Oklahoma State), who is wearing James Conner’s old number, No. 30.
In his first season with the Arizona Cardinals, Conner scored 18 touchdowns. In March 2022 he signed a new three-year contract with the Cardinals worth $21 million, with $13.5 million guaranteed.
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