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Najee Harris feasted against ranked opponents

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He saved his best performances for the best competition.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Michigan v Alabama Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Najee Harris had quite a good 2019. He rushed for 1,224 yards - the most since Derrick Henry in 2015 - while adding another 304 yards receiving. Harris scored 13 touchdowns rushing and 7 receiving. His performance was good enough to earn him second team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press and the coaches.

This one play probably sums up his abilities and playing style.

Harris slips through the line and catches an easy pass for enough for the first down. He hits the breaks and throws one defender to the ground and then quickly gets back up to speed. Harris busts out his trademark for another defender before shrugging off a half-hearted tackle attempt, and he finishes his dash to the endzone.

It was an impressive overall season for Harris, but the most impressive part was how he played against the Tide’s top opponents.

Here are Harris’s stats against unranked and then ranked teams (LSU, Auburn, Michigan) last year.

  • Unranked (10 games): 139 carries, 796 yards (5.73 yards/carry), 9 touchdowns
  • Ranked (3 games): 3 games: 70 carries, 428 yards (6.11 yards/carry), 4 touchdowns

His 142.67 yards per game in ranked contests was third in the nation behind J.K. Dobbins (169.67) and Pooka Williams (147.67). Among players with at least 50 carries against ranked teams, Harris’s 6.11 yards per carry was sixth in the nation.

Here are his stats from those ranked games.

LSU

19 carries, 146 yards (7.68 yards/carry), 1 touchdown; 3 receptions, 44 yards

Harris sees the right side is plugged up, but he spots enough of a hole on the left and cuts back that way. He bursts through the line and isn’t touched until he’s almost 20 yards down field. Harris absorbs that hit and keeps going, gaining another 10 or so yards.

Auburn

27 carries, 146 yards (5.41 yards/carry), 1 touchdown; 4 receptions, 26 yards

Harris waits glides through the hole, running through a small bit of contact. The safety has come down on him, and he sidesteps the dive at his legs. Harris gets going and finishes the run with a hurdle (of course) to make sure he picks up the first down.

Michigan

24 carries, 136 yards (5.67 yards/carry), 2 touchdowns

These are Harris’s 17th and 18th runs of the game, deep into the fourth quarter when Alabama wants to keep burning clock and prevent any sort of attempted comeback.

Harris is first hit 4 yards past the line of scrimmage by two defenders. It doesn’t matter. He keeps churning his legs and powers forward another 7 to 8 yards when a third defender joins in. Harris keeps going. Then a fourth defender arrives. And a fifth. And they finally bring Harris down after a 19 yard gain (15 yards after contact). It took 45% of Michigan’s defense to stop him.

After that tough run, Harris gets back up and makes this play. It looks like it’ll just be a short to medium gain after two defenders hit Harris after two yards; but, again, he keeps his legs moving and stays up. He breaks through the initial scrum and drags multiple Wolverines with him. I believe seven defenders make contact with him at some point. It’s still a 16 yard gain and another first down.