Last offseason, I wrote several articles in the Should I Trade or Should I Hold series. I advised Joe Mixon and Josh Jacobs should be holds at their current prices and that Ezekiel Elliott would be a good sell for a team that isn’t competitive but a hold for championship-caliber teams.
While Jacobs finished just outside the top 12 at 14th in 0.5 PPR, Mixon and Zeke finished 3rd and 6th, respectively.
So who does my focus shift to for the first running back in the series for the 2022 offseason? Why not take a look at one of last year’s breakout RBs? A back that won many of his owners a championship a season ago: Najee Harris.
First, let’s break down the huge season that Harris had last year. As a rookie, Harris finished as RB4 in 0.5 PPR. He had 1200 rushing yards and 467 receiving yards, and 10 total TDs. On top of this, Harris led the league with 74 receptions and tied for first with 94 targets.
Harris was involved early and often in Pittsburgh’s offense. When you see a breakout in a rookie season, it is reason to be excited. Owners everywhere were also rewarded if they played in their league’s championship game, as Harris had 28.1 points in Week 17, including an inconsequential (in the real game) 37-yard TD run with under a minute to go in the game.
My apologies to anyone who played against Harris in their championship game for making you re-live the nightmare of that run.
After bursting on the scene in 2021, Harris is now one of the biggest names in dynasty. He is currently ranked at RB7 in our Dynasty Nerds PPR Rankings, and (surprisingly) he is ranked even higher in Standard rankings at RB2.
With all the excitement surrounding Najee after his rookie season, this is an easy hold, right? Not so fast, my friends.
A QB with an Arm
Harris is only entering his second year, so the following should be taken into context.
Am I warning that Najee will not be a good back over the next three years? No. He is still a player you should want to roster.
But is it possible that his rankings at this current moment are the highest it will ever be? Yes, quite possibly.
First, let’s discuss the issue everyone is talking about: the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger’s last year in the NFL was definitely not his best. Among QBs with five games started, Ben finished 32nd in Intended Air Yards per Attempt (IAY/PA) at 6.7 yards.
This can help account for Najee leading the league in RB targets at 94. Roethlisberger, with limited deep-ball ability, targeted his back a lot.
Into Pittsburgh comes Mitch Trubisky, who in 2020 was 21st in IAY/PA with 7.8 yards per attempt.
While this isn’t incredible, Trubisky has shown that he has a much stronger arm than the age-39 season of Roethlisberger. With the capacity to get the ball downfield, Najee could see targets decrease significantly.
This possible reduction could be a big factor in Harris’s output. Even if Najee’s targets decrease to a mid-RB1, he would be totaling around 69 targets next year. This is the total targets Cordarrelle Patterson saw in 2021 (5th among RBs).
That’s fewer targets than the total receptions Najee tallied in 2021.
Even if Najee continued to catch 78% of his targets, he would only end the year with 54 receptions on 69 targets. Harris averaged 6.3 yards-per-catch last year, meaning he would finish with 126 fewer yards and 20 fewer receptions. This is 22.6 fewer points on the year.
This difference alone would drop him from RB4 to RB6.
300 Plus Attempts
The other aspect of Najee’s game that hasn’t been discussed as often is the number of times he carried the ball last season. Harris had 307 attempts a season ago, second-most in the NFL. With bell-cow numbers like this, Harris is very intriguing as a player. However, as mentioned before, the Steelers bringing in a more capable QB may put a dent in the amount of times Harris carries next year.
While it is hard to calculate how many fewer carries Harris may see, let’s put it into perspective in another way. Harris finished with 3.9 yards per attempt a season ago. Among RBs with at least 95 rushing attempts, Harris is 38th in the league in yards-per-carry.
“Well, Tim, you have already said that Harris had no QB last year. Defenses stacked the box on him and wouldn’t let him run.” That would be a good point if it were true.
According to NextGen stats, Harris only saw 8-plus men in the box on 14.66% of his carries a year ago. Among those same backs with 95-plus carries on the year, 42 other running backs see 8-plus men in the box at a higher percentage. Harris failed to reach four yards-per-carry when 85% of the time, there were, at most, only seven guys in the box. This doesn’t bode well for strong rushing production in future years.
Could this be explained by Roethlisberger being the Steelers QB and sub-par production from the 2021 O-Line? Sure. But it is a lot to bank on when spending top-dollar for a back.
The question is, do you really even have to spend top-dollar right now?
Currently, Harris has been involved in a few real-life trades that we can look at on the DynastyNerds Trade Browser. Surprisingly, it seems many owners of Harris are already concerned about his drop-off. Here are a few, for example:
All of these trades show owners trading Harris away for less than his current dynasty value, according to our Dynasty Nerds rankings. Some of these are by a significant margin.
Zach Moss, a 1st and two 2nd round picks were enough to buy Najee in one league! This is an unforgivable return. And we can’t even chalk this up to one bad trade by one bad owner. There are at least eight trades in the last week in the trade browser where Harris is getting moved for less than his value.
If Harris’s value is perceived as this low in your leagues, there is no chance I could advise anyone to trade for him.
While there are many things to be concerned about with Najee Harris going into year two, the fact is that many owners are already under the perception that his value is not as high as many of us at Dynasty Nerds think it is.
Personally, I have Najee as RB5 in my standard dynasty RB rankings, even though I am concerned about some drop off. The fact is, even if Harris sees a reduction in catches and carries, he is still very much the bell cow in his offense. Opportunity is the biggest factor in production, and Harris has plenty of opportunities.
My advice for any owner of Harris would be to hold unless someone is willing to give you market value for the RB. I would need a high RB2 and two first-round picks to want to move Harris currently.
Judging by the trade browser, this offer isn’t likely to come.
On the flip side, if you do not currently own Harris, it is not a bad idea to kick the tires on him in your leagues. Apparently, Harris owners are starting to worry that his value is too inflated. But in their concern over his inflation, owners are selling Harris at the perceived value they have of him. You may be able to capitalize and acquire a young back only going into year two without surrendering more than one first-round pick.
Harris owners: hold. Those interested in trading for Harris: inquire now.