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There are definitely high expectations for Steelers' first-round pick Najee Harris in Year 1, as the Steelers believe he's the catalyst to improving their rushing offense that ranked dead last in the league last year. The Steelers could also be counting on Harris to keep them as legit Super Bowl contenders.
The Steelers finished the regular season 12-4 last year, but they collapsed down the stretch, losing five of their last six games, including the embarrassing first-round playoff loss to the Browns at Heinz Field. A big reason for the Steelers crumbling late in the year was that they had no running game and defenses figured out their quick dink-and-dunk passing game.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com believes the success of the Steelers 2021 season all falls on Harris' shoulders and how he performs.
"I know Steelers fans might expect Ben Roethlisberger to be the one cited to guide the Steel City to its seventh title, but the team's playoff hopes hinge on whether a rookie running back can play at a Pro Bowl level reminiscent of what Pittsburgh got from the position in Le'Veon Bell 's glory days," Brooks wrote. "The Alabama product has similar skills as an RB1/WR2 talent, and his ability to create explosive plays as a runner and receiver will add a much-needed dimension to an offense that has lost its luster in recent years."
Brooks feels the Steelers should not expect Ben Roethlisberger to throw the ball 608 times like he did last year, which was the third-most in the league, especially being that Roethlisberger is another year older at age 39. Getting a more balanced attack with Harris now in the backfield should be the name of the game for new offensive coordinator Matt Canada in 2021.
"Insert Harris into the lineup and the Steelers, who ranked dead last in rushing last season, have a three-down back with big-play potential when the ball's in his hands. At Alabama, he displayed outstanding balance, body control and burst as a runner and spectacular skills as a route runner in the passing game," Brooks wrote. "With Big Ben better suited to play small ball at this stage of his career, the addition of a versatile, big-bodied back with soft hands gives the Steelers' offense another dimension."