SCU’s 2021 Steelers Awards: Top rookie performer

Steel City Underground presents our “Steelers Awards” to players on the Pittsburgh Steelers team that had outstanding performances throughout the 2021-22 NFL regular season.

Despite the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers either started or played a high number of rookie players during the 2021-22 NFL regular season, there was one player that played a highly-pivotal role in all 17 games and one playoff match. Steel City Underground’s “Top rookie performer” award goes to running back Najee Harris.

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When Harris was selected as the Steelers’ No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft (Alabama), it was predicted that he’d be asked to be an all-around, three-down back for the offense. His training camp was positive and it appeared, right away, that Harris’ transition from collegiate play to professional football would be less of a learning curve than it has been for many rookies in the league.

“I want the ball, so that is one way to show them I can have a big workload…That is the whole Pittsburgh Steelers fan base, the whole organization, all on my one arm.” – Najee Harris

Harris finished the regular season with 1,667 yards from scrimmage (1,200 yards rushing and 467 yards receiving). His ten touchdowns (seven rushing, three receiving) ranked him second in the NFL among all rookies and ranked him fourth, overall in the NFL, in yards from scrimmage, as he led all 2021 rookies. He set a rookie record for most yards from scrimmage (single-season, Le’Veon Bell 1,259 in 2013), and his 1,200 rushing yards surpassed Franco Harris‘ 1972 rookie rushing record for rushing yards in a single season.

Harris was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Month for October 2021 for his performances Week 4-8. He earned his first 100-yard career game in Week 5 by rushing for 122 yards on 23 carries against the Denver Broncos. During those four weeks, Harris totaled 356 yards on 88 carries (4.0 yard per carry average) and three touchdowns; he added 124 yards and a touchdown on 17 receptions. That equaled one touchdown in every game the Steelers played in October.

Harris also became the first rookie running back in the NFL to log three or more 100-yard rushing games and a 100-yard receiving game, in the same season, since Roy Helu, Jr. (Washington, 2011). He was the first Steelers running back (eighth in NFL history) to register that stat since the franchise’s 1949 season.

Harris was arguably the most consistent player in the Steelers’ offensive scheme throughout the season. His ability to keep his legs moving after an initial hit made him fun to watch. Harris’ stiff-arms and shoulder hits that bounced defenders to the turf were highlights that excited the fanbase and others around the NFL, showcasing his tenacity.

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