There is a thought that the emergence of second-year back Jaylen Warren will hinder Harris' production this season. While Warren will undoubtedly get some work, his contributions will only help Harris, who played better last season after Warren's involvement in the offense increased.
Four of Warren's five most productive games last season coincided with four of Harris' better statistical performances. The duo combined for 176 all-purpose yards (with Harris rushing for 99 yards and a 4.95 yards a carry) in a Week 10 win over the Saints and a whopping 222 yards -- including Harris' game-winning touchdown catch -- in Pittsburgh's Week 17 win in Baltimore.
Instead of hindering each other's success, Warren and Harris complemented one another. No one knows that better than Kenny Pickett, who benefitted by the contributions of both players during his rookie season.
"It's kind of like thunder and lightning with (Warren) and Najee," Pickett recently said regarding the Steelers' top-two running backs. "I think those two have a really good balance off each other. They both do great things. They both do things differently. And I think it's great to have that combination in the backfield."
Another thing to consider is the vastly better physical condition Harris is in now compared to this time last year, when he was still dealing with the effects of a foot injury. Harris is not only healthy this year, he should be considerably fresh after pacing himself through training camp while Warren and Anthony McFarland saw an increased workload in practices and in the preseason.
"A lot of it is keeping him fresh for the season," Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada said when asked about the distribution of labor with the Steelers backs. "You look at what we asked Naj to do the last couple years. I mean, you guys talked about it after his (rookie season), right? How many touches he had, how many times he was on the field, the amount of plays, and all of those things. And last year, you know, we reference after the bye a lot, we ran the football quite a bit and Naj was a big, big part of it.
"Your body can take so much. We feel like he's done a lot. And we're going to continue to want to get him to the show and get him ready to go play for us. And so, it's been a systematic plan to keep him upright and at the same time getting ready to play. And that's a fine balance for everybody."
What is a reasonable statistical expectation from Harris in 2023? Like last season, Harris' role in the passing game will continue to be limited, with Warren picking up some of the slack in that regard. Harris' total usage will probably be somewhere around 300 total touches, which is roughly the amount of touches he received last year but a considerable drop-off from his rookie tally of 384 touches.
With a more reasonable workload, a better offensive line and a vastly improved passing attack, it's fair to expect Harris to post a career-high yards-per-carry average this season. If Harris averages 4.3 yards per carry (a half-yard more than he did in 2022), that would give him 1,170 rushing yards in 2023 if he has as many carries (272) as he did last season, when he gained 1,035 yards. I'll go on a limb and predict that Harris will eclipse the 1,200-yard mark, barring an injury.
As far as receiving goes, Harris is too good to simply not be used. He caught 74 passes as a rookie and 41 passes last season, so it's safe to assume that Harris will still be utilized in that capacity. While 40-plus catches is probably a stretch, 30-35 receptions from Harris is a reasonable expectation.
While his catches may dip, Harris' touchdown tally should increase this season. Harris, who scored 10 touchdowns each of his first two seasons, should have more chances to score this season assuming the Steelers have more trips inside the red zone.
Add everything up, and Harris appears to be on track to have his best season to date, even with the emergence of Warren and the Steelers passing game. Around 1,500 total yards and 12 total touchdowns are realistic expectations for Pittsburgh's starting running back.
Could Harris eclipse those totals? Certainly. But given the amount of weapons the Steelers offense has, it's probably safer to assume that Harris' numbers will be slightly better than his output during his first two seasons.