Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris has had two solid, if unspectacular, seasons since being drafted by Pittsburgh in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Harris’ upcoming third season in the league might be his most important though, as after the season the Steelers need to decide whether or not to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2025 season. Sports Illustrated predicted whether or not the fifth-year option would be picked up for each team’s first-round selection, and they believe the Steelers will pick up Harris’ option following the season.
“Harris entered Pittsburgh as one of the more ballyhooed running backs in recent years, and he hasn’t disappointed. Although Harris has averaged only 3.9 yards per carry throughout his career, the former Crimson Tide star notched a pair of 1,000-yard seasons, highlighted by 14 rushing touchdowns. Expect Harris with the Steelers for at least five years,” Matt Verderame writes.
It’s a little bit early to say whether or not the Steelers will pick up his option, just because anything can happen this year. If Harris suffers a serious injury, the chances of his fifth-year option being picked up would obviously go down significantly. If he has a similar year this year to his prior two, I think the Steelers would still pick up his option, but it might be a decision that comes down to the wire.
While he’s had over 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons in the league, his efficiency hasn’t been great. After averaging 3.9 yards per carry as a rookie, he averaged 3.8 yards per carry in his sophomore campaign behind an improved offensive line. However, Harris was dealing with a Lisfranc injury throughout the first half of the season which limited his productivity and he was a lot better during the second half of the season. The offense this year is designed around the run game, so the expectation is that Harris should be in line for a career-best year. If that comes to fruition, then picking his option up will be a no-brainer.
I really do think the decision to pick up Harris’ option will come down to this season. It’s not wise to spend a lot of money on a running back, and if Harris struggles this year the Steelers could make him prove his value in a contract year by declining his option. The team also has Jaylen Warren waiting in the wings behind Harris, and while Harris is the better overall back, Warren has shown flashes. His presence could definitely impact the front office’s thinking when it comes to whether or not to accept Harris’ option.
While it’s too early to say definitively whether or not the Steelers will pick up Harris’ option, one thing’s for certain: 2023 is a very important season for Najee Harris’ future with the Steelers.