It’s no secret that the Steelers offense struggled in 2022.  Specifically, this team struggled with explosive plays.  This led to an overall lack of scoring for the team.  The biggest hurdle for success for the 2023 Steelers will be to improve in this category.  The question is who provides those explosive plays?

There is every hope that the passing game will improve in year two of the Kenny Pickett era.  With a full year under his belt, the downfield passing game should improve.  That also goes for George Pickens in his sophomore season.  The addition of a healthy Calvin Austin gives this offense a speed asset it lacked all of last season.

The run game however promises to be more of the same.  Najee Harris is a lot of things, but explosive is not one of them.  He is yet to average over 4 yards per carry in his NFL career.  He ranked 23rd in carries over ten yards last season with 20.  Harris had one carry over 30, and none beyond that.  His longest reception in 2022 was a meager 19 yards, with an overall average of 5.6.  For a team in desperate need of explosive plays, Najee Harris’ skill set does nothing to help in this area.

Dalvin Cook on the other hand, is more along the lines of what this offense needs.  In contrast to what Najee Harris did in 2022, Cook averaged 4.4 yards per carry.  This was off his career average of 4.7.  Even in a “down year”, Cook managed to be 8th in explosive runs with 30.  In addition to that he had 4 runs of 30+, 3 runs of 40+, and 2 runs of 50+.  As a receiver he averaged 7.6 yards per completion with a long of 64 yards.  Dalvin Cook is upper tier running back in terms of explosive plays.

So which back would be a better fit for the Steelers in 2023?  In terms of actual on the field production it is Dalvin Cook in a landslide.  There are other factors to consider however.  Durability has always been a bit of an issue with Cook.  He has missed 25 games in his 6 year career due to injury.  Cook did play in all 17 games with the Vikings last season however.

There is also the argument of money.  Najee Harris will earn roughly $3.5 million a season for the next two seasons.  The Steelers will have to make the decision on his fifth year option which would cost them upwards of $11 plus million in 2025.  Dalvin Cook is a free agent at the moment.  His value on the open market is tough to gauge, but it will almost certainly be an increase over Harris.

In conclusion there is little doubt Dalvin Cook is a better fit for the Steelers in 2023.  This is of course just an exercise.  We know the Steelers would never choose to dump Najee Harris in favor of Dalvin Cook despite the obvious better fit for their offense.  The Steelers best option would to be to have both backs in tandem. It would require some creative play calling given what would be a log jam at running back,  Giving Cook snaps in the slot, and possibly out wide would be part of the solution.  Having too much talent at a position is never an issue, particularly on a team that had such an issue creating explosive plays.