Jaylen Warren vs. Najee Harris | Which Steelers RB to Play

by Nathan Hartunian · Matchups Start/Sit
Najee Harris fantasy

Now that Matt Canada has been fired, which Steelers running back – Najee Harris or Jaylen Warren – should fantasy gamers value greater? This is an inter-squad bout.

Introducing first…in the RED CORNER: hailing from Alabama, standing 6-1, and weighing in at 242-pounds: “Thunder” Najee Harris!!!!!

And, his opponent…in the BLUE CORNER: hailing from the Oklahoma State University, standing in at 5-8, and weighing in at 215-pounds: “Lightning” Jaylen Warren!!!!!

The Backstory

Kenny Pickett’s nicknames for the two running backs perfectly sets the scene for the battle we are about to witness. Third-year running back Najee Harris brings the Thunder, being the slower but much more powerful back, and he can breakout for a big gainer anytime.

Meanwhile, Jaylen Warren is the smaller, quicker runner that can consistently put together a solid gain on any play. At the beginning of this season, Harris was the clear RB1 in Pittsburgh, but after some early season struggles, Warren, who had little to no fantasy relevance before the season, began to pick up more and more opportunities. Warren made the most of his opportunities.

Following the Steelers’ Bye Week, Harris put his name back on the fantasy radar as a strong play, but Mike Tomlin began rewarding Warren for his efficiency as a runner by naming him the official starter going forward. In Week 11, Warren finally seemed to have proven he was the true starter when he ran for 129 yards and a touchdown (23.5 fantasy points) while Harris only ran for 35 yards (4.6 fantasy points).

Following the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, however, Harris was reincorporated into the Pittsburgh offense. He ran for 99 yards and a touchdown (15.9 fantasy points), while Warren fumbled and ran for just 49 yards (7.2 fantasy points). The energy shifted towards Harris once again. Then both running backs had lackluster games against the Patriots. How should gamers approach this puzzling situation?

Najee Harris

In Harris’s 2021 rookie season, he ran for 1,200 yards and scored 10 touchdowns, averaging 17.7 fantasy points per game, which was No. 6 overall among all RBs. It is important to point out that, during his rookie campaign, Harris averaged 3.9 yards per carry, which is decent, but when you look at his 2023 numbers and see he is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, you get a little confused. What has changed? How did his average fantasy points per game fall from No. 6 all the way to No. 34?

There are two key factors. A look at the stats will tell you that it is because he hasn’t been scoring as many touchdowns Harris had 10 touchdowns in 2021, and this season, he only has four. However, what the basic stat sheet won’t tell you is that the reason Harris has struggled is because his Red Zone Carries per game have dropped.

In the Matt Canada era of this season (Weeks 1 to 11), Harris totaled just 15 Red Zone Carries for an average of just 1.4 per game. Back when Harris was golden in 2021, he had 2.3 Red Zone carries per game. However, things might be headed in the right direction. In the first two games of quarterback coach Mike Sullivan calling the plays, Harris totaled eight Red Zone carries.

Jaylen Warren

Just a few weeks ago, we all thought Jaylen Warren had won the job over. Unfortunately folks, fantasy football can never be that simple. The primary argument for Warren is that he gets the bulk of the receptions and is steady on the ground (sometimes breaking a big play), and this would be enough to put Warren over Harris. In the three games prior to Canada’s dismissal, the argument was good as gold. Warren ran for 106 yards and caught 2.7 passes on average. However, his production dipped in the last few weeks, running for just 118 combined yards over the last three games. Still, Warren’s versatility should keep him in the mix and allow him to give managers plenty of reception points along with his work on the ground.

The Winner Is…

Najee Harris is the back you want in Pittsburgh. Before Canada’s leave, I was sold on Warren, but I now have more faith in Harris as the way the Steelers are running their offense just suits Harris more. However, if the Steelers offensive line has another collapse like they did last week against the Patriots, there will be major concerns for both running backs. Go buy Harris low for the playoffs as your deep league flex. Best of luck in the fantasy playoffs.

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