Gold Lot Sports Presents "Man Crush Monday" featuring Najee Harris

Don Wright/Associated Press

Man Crush Monday is a new weekly segment from Gold Lot Sports where we will showcase one Pittsburgh athlete each Monday.  This particular athlete may have either had an outstanding weekend, a great past week overall, or we just think the Pittsburgh audience should know a little more about this player. 

Our first edition of Man Crush Monday unfortunately debuted during the great Facebook outage of October 4, 2021, so it did not get the hype we hoped for.  However, today’s edition features Pittsburgh Steeler rookie running back, Najee Harris, coming off his first career 100-yard rushing game.

A Great Overall Game

This week brought a very unexpected twist to Man Crush Monday.  With Pitt football on a bye, the Pirates now a full week into their offseason, and the Pens season not yet started, I knew I would want to feature a Pittsburgh Steeler.  What I did not expect was the amount of players that had an outstanding game yesterday against the Denver Broncos. 

Since Week 1, the Steelers have not played good football.  Even the defense has had their struggles as of late.  However, I had half a dozen players to choose from for this week’s segment.  I could have went with veteran, and criminally underrated, Cam Heyward on the defensive side.  Wide receivers Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson both had remarkable games.  I also could have chosen the offensive line as a unit. However, I could not pass up talking about Steelers rookie Najee Harris after he had his first career 100-yard game rushing.

Superstar In the Making

Pronounced Naw-Jee, despite Sunday’s play-by-play announcer regularly calling him Naw-Jay, Najee Harris was selected 24th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2021 NFL Draft.  He played his college career at Alabama.  He had an outstanding college career where he averaged 6.0 yards per carry, scored 46 rushing TDs and had 11 receiving TDs.  Harris was a big reason the Crimson Tide won the National Championship last season.  In his senior season at Alabama he rushed for 1,466 yards and scored 30 of his career college touchdowns.  

On Sunday, Harris finally got the opportunity to show why he was worthy of a first round selection.  Not that he hadn’t in games past.  Harris has regularly shown he can hurdle and run over defenders, and has the consistent ability to break tackles.  He also had 102 yards receiving in the Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but that was seen as Ben just needing a place to dump the ball off.  So unfortunately, Harris' rushing numbers had not supported him just yet.  

In his first four games with the Steelers, Harris was only able to top the 50-yard rushing mark once and only had 185 total yards rushing coming into Sunday.  This was seen as a deficiency in the offensive line and fans were just waiting for Harris to break out.  He finally got his shot against the Broncos, carrying the ball 23 times for 122 yards rushing and a touchdown.

The Steelers have not had a 100-yard rusher this early in their career since Jonathan Dwyer ran for 107 yards in his second career game in Week 5 of the 2011 season.  That’s over a 10-year stretch.  It took notable past Steelers starters, James Conner and Le'Veon Bell, until their 17th and 15th career games respectively to reach the 100-yard rushing mark.  In Conner's defense, he was not given the starter job until his second season, but Harris completing the task this early in his rookie season is still very impressive.

This is especially impressive completing this task against the Denver Broncos.  Even after Sunday's game, the Broncos defense still ranks sixth in the league in rushing yards allowed per game.  They also had not given up 100 yards to a single rusher in a game all season before Sunday.  

Harris was so good, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the game that a high percentage of the Steelers play calls were Run-Pass options yesterday.  However, even with Ben feeling the pass was available, he did not want to choose the pass and take the ball out of Najee's hands.  He was running the ball that well.

Shout Out to the O-Line

Additionally, featuring Najee Harris this week for MCM also gives me the opportunity to shout out the offensive line.  Despite major worries about the line coming out of Training Camp, they have actually kept the pocket pretty clean.  Ben was sacked by Cincinnati four times, but aside from that game he has been sacked no more than twice in a single game, and was only sacked once by the highly touted Broncos defense on Sunday.  This combined with the fantastic rushing game from Harris shows that this offensive line is improving and performing way better than expected.  

The talent and the excitement have been present all season for Najee Harris.  He was as highly touted of a rookie as the Steelers have had on the offensive side for quite some time.  Many were questioning if he was the right choice when it appeared the O-line could not support him.  However, after Sunday's game, I think a lot of the questions have been put to bed.  Whether the O-line can support him or not, Najee Harris is an extremely talented running back and will be successful in the NFL for many years to come.