Steelers’ Najee Harris emerging as leader in post-Big Ben era

The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into their first season without longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, opening the door for some new faces to emerge as leaders on the team.

One name in particular is getting lots of buzz.

“There’s going to be some new leadership here. Some of them you can anticipate, like [Najee Harris],” head coach Mike Tomlin recently said. “But make no mistake, we are not sitting around hoping any of it happens. We’re thoughtfully constructing it.”

Harris led all NFL running backs in snaps and offensive touches as a rookie, playing 929 snaps in the regular season, per Next Gen Stats. He rushed 307 times for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns during his Pro Bowl campaign. Harris added 74 catches for 467 yards and three additional scores, making him an undeniable double threat on the field. Last season, no other Steeler even totaled 100 rushing yards over the entire campaign — Benny Snell‘s 36 carries for 98 yards were the second-most on the team.

“That dude is a bell cow. He’s gonna have to be a bell cow for us,” Tomlin added. “If this train is going anywhere in 2022, he’s going to be a major component of it, and he’s capable. I ain’t even talking about from a talent standpoint. We know that. I’m talking about he’s capable from an intangibles standpoint. Bringing the best out in his teammates. Wearing the responsibility that comes with leading.”

One of the ways that Tomlin, the Steelers’ head coach since 2007, is helping the team transition from the Roethlisberger era is through the already established leadership of defensive tackle Cam Heyward, an 11-year NFL veteran, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.

“I’m bridging the transitional leadership relationship between Cameron Heyward and Najee,” Tomlin said.

In the wake of Roethlisberger’s retirement – he led the Steelers to 12 playoff appearances and two Super Bowl titles in 18 seasons – Pittsburgh signed free agent Mitch Trubisky to join backup Mason Rudolph, who boasts a 5-4-1 all-time starting record across three seasons when stepping in for Big Ben.

The Steelers also selected Pitt product Kenny Pickett with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. This offseason marks the franchise’s first open QB competition in nearly two decades.

“I’m looking forward to the anxiety associated with that uncertainty. To have to stand and deliver, to live out what we believe in,” Tomlin added. “The standard is the standard. … A No. 1 is a No. 1, and that’s what I want Pittsburgh Steelers football to be. So it doesn’t matter who puts their hands underneath the center as far as I’m concerned. But, all that cool stuff being said — it’s scary, but exciting.”

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