Najee Harris caught 80 passes during his decorated college career at Alabama. At his current rate with the Steelers, Harris will obliterate that tally during his first season in the NFL. In Pittsburgh’s Week 3 loss to Cincinnati, the Steelers’ rookie running back caught 14 passes, setting a franchise record for the most receptions by a running back in a single game. Harris was three catches shy from matching Antonio Brown’s franchise record for receptions in a single game. Brown’s record was set against the Raiders during the 2015 season.
Harris has quickly become a vital part of Pittsburgh’s passing attack. After having communication issues with Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers’ Week 1 win over the Bills, in Pittsburgh’s Week 2 loss to the Raiders Harris caught all five of his targets, including a 25-yard touchdown reception. He was targeted a whopping 19 times on Sunday and finished the game as the Steelers’ leading receiver with 102 yards. Through three games, Harris has 20 catches on 27 targets for 149 yards and a touchdown. He’s on pace to catch 113 passes, which would easily break Le’Veon Bell’s franchise single season record for receptions by a running back. Bell caught 85 passes during the 2017 season.
“I thought he did well,” Roethlisberger said of Harris’ performance on Sunday, via Sports Illustrated’s Noah Strackbein. “I don’t remember watching a lot of his college tape to know how much they asked him to catch out of the backfield. I don’t believe it was a lot. He’s learning and growing on the urgency out of the backfield and how fast the ball can get to him, and then how fast they can close on him when he gets the ball.”
Harris has more receiving than rushing yards through three games. Playing behind a young offensive line, Harris has rushed for 123 yards on 40 carries for a 3.1 yards-per-carry average. Harris had two big runs called back by penalties committed by his offensive line on Sunday. Penalties was just one of several reasons why the Steelers lost their second consecutive game and second straight game at Heinz Field.
While his rushing totals are low, Harris — who is averaging just under 91 all-purpose yards per game — is on pace to break Bell’s eight-year-old franchise record for most total yards by a rookie running back. Harris has some work to do to break Franco Harris’ 49-year-old franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie running back, however. After a slow start, Franco Harris rumbled for 1,055 yards during his highly-touted rookie season that saw him win Rookie of the Year honors.