Fantasy Court: The Case Against Najee Harris in 2023 (Fantasy Football)

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This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court series. Check out The Case For Najee Harris by Julia Papworth for the opposing view.

Opening Statement

Your Honor, esteemed members of the jury, and fellow fantasy football court members.

Today, we gather to examine a case of 3rd round significance in the realm of fantasy football. As we gather to discuss the matter of Najee Harris and his inflated cost, we must dive into the evidence laid before us. Throughout this presentation, we will lay bare the elements that comprise our argument – inefficiency per opportunity, the prospect of workload reduction, and the opportunity cost of his ADP. This is the case against Najee Harris.

Points Per Opportunity (PPO)

Throughout Najee’s first two seasons in the NFL, he has seen an asinine amount of work. Harris has seen a combined 726 opportunities (rush attempts + targets) in his career thus far. This amount of work has led to him being the RB14 and RB4 in half-PPR formats. There is no doubt that this amount of work is intriguing for a fantasy manager. The workload has been there for Najee, but what he has done with it is a concern. In 2021, Najee Harris had the most opportunities of any running back in the NFL, and even though he ended the year as the RB4, he was the 9th running back in fantasy points per game. He saw a similar trajectory in 2022 as he ended the year as the RB14, but only finished as the RB20 in points per game.

The prosecution embarked on an investigative journey to unravel the truth behind these numbers, focusing on the pivotal metric of points per opportunity (PPO). Our discoveries proved quite astounding. Analyzing the top 36 running backs in total points during the 2022 season, we identified an average PPO of 0.726 among this group. In stark contrast, Najee Harris trailed with a PPO of 0.618, ranking him 32nd within the group! These revelations cast a revealing light on Mr. Harris, highlighting his heavy reliance on volume that has clouded the judgment of fantasy managers.

Top 12 Running Backs in Opportunities

Player Opportunities PPO PPG
Josh Jacobs 404 0.737 17.52
Derrick Henry 390 0.708 17.26
Saquon Barkley 371 0.678 15.72
Christian McCaffrey 352 0.871 18.03
Nick Chubb 339 0.784 15.64
Austin Ekeler 331 0.952 18.54
Najee Harris 325 0.618 11.81
Dalvin Cook 320 0.682 12.84
Alvin Kamara 300 0.611 12.21
Rhamondre Stevenson 298 0.7 12.27
Aaron Jones 285 0.748 12.54
Joe Mixon 285 0.735 14.96

Check out Najee’s PPG and PPO…

Ladies and gentlemen, this glaring disparity prompts us to reevaluate the narrative surrounding Najee Harris. While his workload has been impressive, it is paramount that we not allow the allure of volume to overshadow the empirical evidence laid bare by his PPO figures. The prosecution contends that a slight drop-off in volume could be catastrophic for Mr. Harris and his fantasy managers.

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The Possibility of Workload Reduction

As we delve deeper into the case against Najee Harris, a glaring factor emerges that demands our attention: the potential for a reduction in volume. While Harris has shouldered a substantial volume of opportunities, a bevy of circumstances casts a shadow over the sustainability of this trend. 

First and foremost, the presence of Jaylen Warren raises questions about the continuation of Najee’s monopoly he has possessed on the Steelers’ backfield. The threat of Warren is not that of a split backfield, but that of a sizeable reduction in opportunity for Najee Harris. Jaylen averaged 5.59 yards per rush and 7.64 yards per reception. Comparing this to Najee’s 3.8 and 5.59 respectively, it is no wonder that Warren started to eat into the market share available to the backfield. Over the last five games of the season, Jaylen Warren saw an average of 37.4% of snaps…as a rookie. This would be expected to sustain over the 2023 season, if not increase.

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Another piece of the puzzle emerges when examining Harris’s rush share. Over the first nine games of the season, Najee saw a rush share of 56.3%. Then over the last eight games he saw a rush share of 55.7%, but this number includes a data point where Jaylen Warren was sidelined with a hamstring injury in the first quarter. When taking that game out and looking at his last seven games, we see that rush share dip to 51.7%. There is no doubt that the ascension of Jaylen Warren has eaten into Najee’s stranglehold on the Steelers’ backfield.

Furthermore, an interesting anomaly occurred last season in Pittsburgh. The Steelers averaged 29.4 rush attempts in 2022, which deviated from their average of 23.4 attempts in the previous four seasons. The team’s commitment to the running game increased by five full attempts year over year. This substantial shift was undoubtedly due to the team bringing along rookie QB Kenny Pickett and no longer having the veteran presence of Ben Roethlisberger. The shift to Pickett from Roethlisberger also saw Najee have a reduction in targets from 94 the previous season to 53 targets in the 2022 season. The reduction in workload through the air is a scary proposition for fantasy managers, as the value of receptions in half and full PPR leagues is immense.

In light of these circumstances, the prosecution contends that fantasy managers must consider the potential for a scaled-back workload for Najee Harris. The emergence of Jaylen Warren, the Steelers’ evolving offensive approach, and the declining target share all converge to paint a picture of uncertainty regarding Harris’s role moving forward. While his historical workload is an enticing prospect, it is vital that fantasy managers recognize the imminent factors that could dilute his prominence in the Steelers’ offensive scheme. The case against drafting Harris at his current cost underscores the importance of a cautious and well-calculated approach.

Opportunity Cost

Every decision made during a fantasy football draft carries a weighty opportunity cost. The case against drafting Najee Harris at his current cost extends beyond his individual merits and delves into the broader context of the players available within his ADP range. As we evaluate the potential return on investment, it becomes imperative to assess whether Harris’s perceived upside outweighs that of the players that share similar draft positions.

Najee Harris boasts an ADP of 30 on Sleeper, positioning him as a mid-third-round pick for half-PPR 1QB drafts. When examining the landscape surrounding Najee’s ADP, an enticing group of options presents itself. Wide receivers such as Tee Higgins (29), DeVonta Smith (31), and DK Metcalf (33) all surround Harris. The prosecution chose to rank the five running backs under Najee Harris for the 2022 season based on points per game as well. This illuminated further our conviction that the opportunity cost of Najee is far too great for fantasy managers. In ranking the five running backs (excluding rookie Jahmyr Gibbs) we found that Najee ranked 4th in points per game, whereas Joe Mixon ranks first and is a full 12 picks after Mr. Harris. Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, and Kenneth Walker III all rank ahead of Najee Harris and have ADPs seven or more places after Najee. These players surrounding Mr. Harris present the allure of high-ceiling fantasy football players through efficiency, while Najee is extremely dependent upon volume and the accumulation of touches. The prosecution asserts that while Harris’s past workload is intriguing, the cost of drafting him over these equally promising alternatives cannot be ignored.

Closing Statement

Ladies and gentlemen of the fantasy football jury, as we reach the culmination of this case against Najee Harris, the prosecution rests its argument with resounding conviction. We have meticulously presented a compelling narrative that should resonate in the minds of every astute fantasy manager seeking success in the upcoming season.

The evidence surrounding Najee Harris‘s points per opportunity (PPO) has painted a stark picture – a picture that exposes a concerning disconnect between the volume of work he has received and the efficiency with which he has converted those opportunities into fantasy points. The reality that his PPO ranks him near the bottom of his peers is a sobering testament to the potential volatility of his fantasy returns.

We have also meticulously outlined the potential for a workload reduction, a looming specter that casts doubt on Harris’ ability to maintain his current levels of production. The introduction of Jaylen Warren, the evolution of the Steelers’ offensive approach, and the declining target share all contribute to a scenario where the fantasy dividends from Harris’ workload may dwindle in the face of unforeseen challenges.

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Furthermore, the principle of opportunity cost has loomed large in this case. The tantalizing prospect of drafting Harris at his current cost must be evaluated against the backdrop of other elite alternatives available within his ADP range. The courtroom of fantasy strategy demands prudent decision-making, one that rigorously examines the potential gains against the palpable losses that could arise from overlooking equally promising players who share a similar draft position.

The case against drafting Harris is not one of discouragement, but rather a clarion call for meticulous analysis, strategic insight, and the utmost prudence in navigating the landscape of fantasy football. The final decision lies in your hands, and we implore you to consider the ramifications of this case as you forge your path to victory.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention and consideration. May your fantasy endeavors be guided by wisdom and strategic acumen.

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