While the Cincinnati Bengals went a modest 3-3 in the AFC North last year, many of the matches were contested until the very end. A blocked kick here or a missed call there often ended up deciding games and possibly defining careers.
With the AFC North being known for its historical rivalries and gritty play, let’s take a look at one player on each opposing team that may not be deserving of their hype.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris
After being selected 24th overall in the 2021 draft out of Alabama, Harris looked to solidify the Pittsburgh backfield for the first time since the fiasco with Le’Veon Bell in 2017. Behind a poor offensive line, the new Steelers running back was productive, rushing for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns in his rookie campaign.
While Harris’ yard total was good for fourth among all backs, his touchdown number did leave some room to be desired. Although his numbers might pop out at first, he got the second most carries in the league, with only the 45th-best yards-per-carry.
He did do some work through the air, adding 467 yards and a trio of touchdowns. While he did impress with these numbers his rookie season, his touchdowns stagnated while his rushing and receiving yards both went down in 2022.
After getting the fifth-most carries among all running backs in 2022, he only got 1,038 yards on the ground. This number was good for the 13th-best among backs. While his offensive line was a concern, Najee Harris is the definition of a volume back.
Defensive coordinators do not have to change their game plan dramatically as they do for Derrick Henry or Christian McCaffrey. Harris puts up decent numbers due to the sheer volume he gets.
While dominant running backs are a bit of a dying breed in the NFL with the substantial uptick in passing attacks, Harris does little to actually move the needle significantly. Bengals running back, Joe Mixon, tied Harris for rushing touchdowns while playing three fewer games than the Steelers runner.
If Najee Harris can be more explosive on early downs and find the end zone a few more times, he might have a case against being overrated, but I don’t see it happening.