“He needs to lose weight,” Bell said, repeating it twice. “…He could shed a little bit just so he can be quicker.”
Bell compared Harris’ weight to that of himself when he first entered the NFL as a rookie in 2013. “He’s kind of like how I was when I first came into the league.”
According to Behind the Steel Curtain, Bell’s listed weight was 244 which, for a player who made hurdling opponents look easy, is big. Apparently he thought so, too. In a 2014 interview with Mark Kaboly (link no longer active), he shared that he dropped 20 pounds during the offseason. With the dramatic shift in weight came expectations of a faster, more explosive runner. Bell rushed for 860 yards in 2013 versus 1,361 in his second season, per Pro Football Reference.
But everybody is different — literally. Though not as dramatic, Harris did the complete opposite heading into his second year and it became a hot topic during the lull of the offseason. There was a bit of a discrepancy in just how much weight he put on. Per a tweet from NFL aggregate reporter Dov Kleiman, Harris was listed as 232 pounds in 2021.
The tweet prompted Harris to set the record straight. “Bra I weighed 240 last year,” he replied on Twitter. “Reporters really don’t be knowing nothing just be tweeting shit.” Kleiman pointed out that his frame of reference was his team’s website which, indeed, listed him at 232 pounds.
Harris joked (or he could’ve been serious) that reporters need something to write about since Ben Roethlisberger retired. “I think they were just bored because Ben retired, so they have nothing to talk about,” he said on All Things Covered with Bryant McFadden and Patrick Peterson on July 25, 2022. “So, somehow it changed to me and my weight. They tried to say something about being Jerome Bettis.”
It did become a thing for probably longer than it should have. CBS Sports Bryan DeArdo reported that Harris’ 244 weight was one pound heavier than Jerome Bettis was reported at his rookie season in 1996.
No matter what the weight gain, it’s hard to quantify the effect it had on his performance. While Bell ran for 500 more yards after trimming down, Harris sustained a foot injury at training camp that lingered into midseason. Surprisingly, he didn’t miss anytime with the lisfranc and played through with a steel plate in his shoe. He was able to grind out 1,034 yards (166 fewer than his rookie season) but didn’t return to form until after their Week 9 bye.
Expectations for Najee Harris in 2023
Though Le’Veon Bell believes Najee Harris needs to shed some weight to be faster, he likes his style. “He runs like a scat back but not really but like he got like a lot of skip to him,” Bell said. “He jumps over people… He got stuff to him. I like the way he runs.”
As nerve-wracking as it was for fans to watch, Harris didn’t stop hurdling defenders while playing injured. When healthy, there’s no telling what he can do. The offensive line should be much improved, though with some new parts (Isaac Seumalo, Broderick Jones), it could take some time to gel as it did last season. With a full offseason as the starter, Kenny Pickett‘s game should also be more crisp. Both factors will have a significant impact on Harris’ production in 2023. If it all comes together, it’s not a stretch to suggest he could out-perform his 1,200-yard rookie campaign.