Najee Harris was looking for answers after an underwhelming NFL regular-season debut. The first running back selected in the 2021 draft, Harris gained just 49 total yards on 16 touches in Pittsburgh's season-opening win over the Bills. The lack of production compelled Harris to ask Steelers coach Mike Tomlin if he could watch film with him ahead of Pittsburgh's second game.
"He was like, 'You know what? No, I'm not going to do that,'" Harris said with a smile while recalling his conversation with Tomlin during an interview with NBC Sports. He then elaborated on Tomlin's reasoning behind not watching film with his young running back.
"We trust you. We believe in you," Harris recalls his coach telling him. "We're just going to wait for you to blossom. There's no pressure on you. One of the good things about this process is that everyone in this building believes in you."
With the verbal backing of his coach, Harris' production has improved each week. Over the past two games, Harris has run for a combined 203 yards and a touchdown on 47 carries for a 4.32-yards-per-carry average. He has also caught eight passes for 66 yards and a touchdown over that span while helping the Steelers win back-to-back games to even their record at 3-3.
Harris' early production has put him in elite company. His 388 rushing yards broke Le'Veon Bell's 8-year-old franchise rookie record through six games. Harris' 34 receptions put him ahead of former 49ers' running back Earl Cooper for fourth all time by a rookie running back through six games, per Steelers communications coordinator Angela Tegnelia. Only Saquon Barkley (40), Reggie Bush (38) and Christian McCaffrey (37) have more receptions than Harris. Harris recently became the first rookie running back to tally 100-yard rushing and receiving games since Alvin Kamara accomplished that feat in 2017 with the Saints.
With the score tied at 17 late in Sunday night's game against Seattle, Harris caught Ben Roethlisberger's third-and-15 pass well short of the first-down marker. After catching the ball on Seattle's 40-yard line, Harris broke a tackle before fighting through two more Seahawks to gain an additional 6 yards. While he fell short of the first down, Harris' extra effort set up Chris Boswell's 52-yard field goal. The Steelers went on to win the game in overtime.
The former Alabama standout is also on pace to break Bell and Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris' season-long rookie records. Bell amassed 1,259 all-purpose yards in 2013, the most yards by a rookie running back in franchise history. Harris ran for a still-standing rookie franchise-record 1,055 yards in a 14-game 1972 season. Harris is currently on pace to reach 1,791 all-purpose yards and about 1,100 rushing yards in a 17-game season.
Not bad for a player who felt compelled to ask his coach to watch film with him following a disappointing debut.
"It made me feel even more confident in what I can do," Harris said of Tomlin's encouragement. "I watched this guy on TV a lot when I was little. Him telling me I could do it and believing in me, and everybody in the building believing in me, it gives you more confidence."
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