(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
The Athletic staff of beat writers recently selected the team MVP for the respective clubs they cover, and for the Steelers longtime beat writer Ed Bouchette predicted rookie running back Najee Harris to be the team MVP in 2021.
"While the MVP often is the quarterback and rarely a rookie, halfback Najee Harris easily could run away with it in his first season," Bouchette wrote. "The Steelers declared a new commitment to the run game soon after they finished on the bottom of the NFL in rushing last season. Then with their first draft pick, they selected Harris, the best back in college football. He’s big, he can catch, he can block, and Mike Tomlin has a history of running a 'bell cow' back rather than by committee. It’s set up for Harris to be a star."
The last Steelers running back to win team MVP was Le'Veon Bell in 2014 and 2016, so it's certainly possible that Harris can win the award, especially if he has over 1,500 total yards from scrimmage. The last Steelers rookie to win team MVP was Franco Harris in 1972.
Harris rushed for 1,055 yards on 188 carries (5.7 average) and 10 touchdowns in his rookie season in 1972, which was just a 14-game schedule then. Harris was named Offensive Rookie of the Year for his efforts and his 1,055 rushing yards remain a franchise record for a rookie running back.
Along with his 1,055 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns, Harris also had 21 receptions for 180 yards (8.6 average) and a touchdown in his rookie year. Harris' hands would help him in the playoffs that year when he caught the "Immaculate Reception" and ran for a touchdown to secure a 13-7 victory for the Steelers over the Raiders to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
If Harris can stay healthy and absorb a ton of carries, he could possibly break Harris' rookie franchise record of 1,055 yards rushing, and even his 10 rushing touchdown mark. If so, it would mean great things for the Steelers running game as they haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Bell in 2017.