One of the top running backs in the NFL and fantasy football, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris projects to be an early pick once again as his 2022 fantasy outlook rivals the top players in the game. With the NFL season and fantasy drafts closing in, what is Harris’ fantasy outlook in 2022, and could he prove to be a value at his current ADP in fantasy football drafts?
Najee Harris’ fantasy outlook for 2022
Harris was sensational as a rookie. He lived up to — if not exceeded — even the loftiest of expectations. After dominating at Alabama, Harris found success off the bat with the Steelers following his first-round selection.
As a rookie, he led the NFL in touches with 381, accumulating 1,667 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Yet, here’s what makes what Harris did remarkable. Of his 1,200 yards, 913 (76%) came after contact. That’s 2.97 yards of his 3.9 average coming after the first hit. It’s a testament to his rushing capability that he was able to pull that off behind that poor of an offensive line. His work out of the backfield is what allowed Harris to finish as the RB3 in PPR formats (18.4 PPR/game).
Of Harris’ 401 opportunities, 94 of those (tied first for RBs) came from Ben Roethlisberger and his anemic arm via targets. Harris came in first in receptions amongst RBs with 74, totaling 467 yards with three touchdowns. Averaging 1.48 PPR/target, 23.4% of his total opportunities accounted for 46.1% of his fantasy output as targets vastly outweigh carries from a fantasy scoring aspect by nearly 3:1. For Harris, it was nearly three and a half times more per touch.
Despite a changing of the guard at QB, Harris’ volume should not significantly diminish. He is one of the few RBs in the league who bring 300+ touch upside, and even a slight regression in touches should still keep Harris well inside the top eight for volume.
Where I do feel Harris will come back to Earth a bit is in his targets, as either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett should bring more verticality to the offense. With that said, Harris is still in the 265+ rush and 75+ target range which is rarified air for fantasy football. He is a first-round caliber player who can be your workhorse RB.
How the Steelers’ depth chart impacts Najee Harris’ fantasy projection for the season
While the Steelers do have some changes on the offense, the conversation starts with the change at QB. Roethlisberger’s next stop is in Canton, Ohio. But that Hall of Fame QB has not been around for several years, so it is not as if the Steelers are going from high-level play to a massive question mark. They are going from a quarterback whose arm was struggling to hang on and was playing for the love of the game. In the end, the once-powerful offense of the Steelers did not resemble anywhere near the same as it had.
If Trubisky can play at a similar level to what the Steelers have seen the last few years, that’s a “win.” Anything beyond that is bonus points. Trubisky is looking for his next break after spending a year in Buffalo and was shaping up to be the Steelers’ starting QB. Then the draft showcased how the NFL felt about this QB class. The Steelers couldn’t help themselves from the local guy, selecting Kenny Pickett from Pitt.
Pickett has all the skills to become a reliable QB in the NFL. He will not wow you as Malik Willis does. But Pickett is a mature passer who can hit every requisite throw on the field. He also brings an underrated rushing upside similar to how we view Ryan Tannehill. You forget about it, but once he breaks one off, you go, “yeah, I forgot he could do that. He should do that more often.”
After OTA, training camp, and preseason games, there has yet to be a resolution to this battle as HC Mike Tomlin keeps his cards close to his vest. Both QBs have had their moments in the preseason. I’d give the likely edge to Trubisky on who I bet wins it, but Pickett has more upside, and I expect to see both starting in 2022. If Pickett wins the job outright, I highly doubt we ever see Trubisky make a start for Pittsburgh. The last thing you want to do is rock a rookie QB’s confidence.
As it impacts Harris, I don’t see either making a significant difference. That is assuming both can sustain drives. Who is under center will have a much more substantial impact on pass catchers like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, and Pat Freiermuth. The offense should not see too much fluctuation in terms of play-calling, just in who each QB is more comfortable with and how they go through their mid-snap progressions.
Upgrades at the offensive line can impact Harris more than who is under center
Where Harris will hope to find some improvements through personnel changes will be on the offensive line. James Daniels comes in from Chicago on a three-year deal to start at guard. Additionally, Mason Cole will take over at center, having made 39 starts over the last four years in Arizona and Minnesota. This will push Kendrick Green into a sub-role and insurance policy for Kevin Dotson, a third-year player who started nine games last season while making the switch to left guard before a lingering ankle injury ended his season.
Hopefully, the 2022 version of the Steelers’ offensive line can find consistency and improve. With that said, they’ve looked rough, to say the least, so far in the preseason. If they can pull it together, and Harris is rushing to daylight and not paving his own lane, Harris could explode statistically.
Harris’ ADP for 2022
There appears to be overwhelming optimism that Harris can repeat his sensational rookie campaign. Harris has an ADP of 7 at the moment in PPR formats, placing him as the No. 5 running back for fantasy football.
PFN’s Fantasy Football rankings also are all in on Harris, equaling his RB5 rankings as the No. 9 overall player. I am slightly lower on Harris, but he is still in the same part of the draft as my RB7 and No. 11 overall ranked player.
Once beyond the Jonathan Taylor and Christian McCaffrey range, there is no true “consensus” order to draft the tier of Harris, Austin Ekeler, Dalvin Cook, and Derrick Henry. Of this group, Harris actually has the broadest range of outcomes.
He can either be great as he was last year but lack efficiency, or the suspected drop in targets is realized, plus inefficiency due to the OL makes Harris closer to the RB12 than RB3. Harris is deserving of a first-round pick in 2022, but I wouldn’t consider him as bulletproof as some want him to be.