Don Wright/Associated Press
Najee Harris is just like you, Pittsburgh Steelers fans.
After all, the rookie running back already circled the showdowns against the archrival Baltimore Ravens with his first season approaching.
“The Baltimore Ravens [matchup] is one because I go up against Marcus Peters,” he told Bleacher Report when asked which game he is most looking forward to this year. “That’s the homie right there, that’s big bro. That’s the one I’m really looking forward to, and they have a good defense. Really, I like going against teams that have a good defense. Baltimore has a good defense, the [Buffalo] Bills have a good defense.”
That Harris is looking forward to facing Peters isn’t surprising considering the two Northern California natives are such close friends that the Ravens cornerback was at the Alabama product’s draft party.
Peters will surely look to introduce the rookie to one of the best rivalries in sports that is known for hard hits, trash talking and standings-swinging results. Pittsburgh won both games against the Ravens last year and took the AFC North, while Baltimore did the same in 2019 with two head-to-head wins over the Steelers.
How quickly Harris can adjust to the NFL game will go a long way toward determining if the Black and Yellow can defend their division crown.
He already flashed some of his potential with a 46-yard reception in a preseason victory over the Detroit Lions but knows he has his work cut out for him at this level.
“You’ve got to be really detailed in the work,” the running back said. “Everybody here is talented in the NFL, so talent is a big factor. But what separates people from the talent is how detailed they are in the work. There’s a lot of things that I didn’t know that the defense can pick up on.”
College defenses had trouble picking up on anything he did at Alabama, which is one reason the Steelers made him the No. 24 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft.
Harris helped lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship alongside Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones. He was unstoppable during the 2020 campaign and ran for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns while adding 425 receiving yards and four touchdowns through the air as the Doak Walker Award winner.
Playing in a loaded offense will be nothing new for the rookie given his time at Alabama, which is welcome news considering Pittsburgh’s offense features playmakers such as Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron and Pat Freiermuth with Ben Roethlisberger distributing the ball.
Harris wants to make sure the rushing attack can keep up with so many pass-catchers.
“I’m trying to get back the run game for sure,” he said. “In Pittsburgh, that’s what they’re normally known for is running the ball and last year wasn’t the best year. So really, the individual goal is to help improve that.”
Pittsburgh was dead last in the NFL in total rushing yards last season. In fact, its 1,351 rushing yards in 2020 were fewer than Harris had by himself at Alabama.
Even Harris’ individual goal is built around improving the team, which underscores why someone so focused on teamwork was the ideal candidate to join the Lowe’s Home Team. The initiative calls for NFL players, Lowe’s Red Vest associates and fans to join forces to improve homes and communities across the country.
“I’m excited to be a part of the Lowe’s Home Team,” Harris, who is helping improve a homeless shelter in Richmond, California, said. “They’re helping me out with a lot of things. I have a project at a homeless shelter. We’re renovating the floors, we’re getting new washers and dryers. I was excited and humbled that Lowe’s is helping me out with that.”
Fans can attempt to join the cause and receive a limited-edition jersey by visiting Lowes.com/HomeTeam.
Don Wright/Associated Press
Off-field opportunities beyond Lowe’s are sure to come if Harris lives up to his potential, and he already sought out advice from a fellow running back in Marshawn Lynch heading into his rookie season.
“Marshawn always tells me ‘if you can’t buy it twice, then don’t buy it at all,'” the 23-year-old said. “He always tells me how important it is to save your money and don’t lose focus on the most important thing and that’s what you do on the field because that’s what brings you a lot of marketing deals. So never lose focus on where the real money is coming from, that’s what you do on the field.”
As for on-field advice he has received?
“The most important thing they always keep preaching to me is make sure you’re taking care of your body because you’re going to have a big workload,” Harris said.
If he is as good as expected, that heavy workload will turn into plenty of wins for the Steelers.