The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Alabama running back Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, making Harris the 24th pick overall. Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert described the decision to draft Harris as “Easy.” Kevin Colbert explained why Pittsburgh’s pick was so easy:
Najee is as complete a back as we could hope to get at any point in the draft. Najee has the size, he has the speed, he has the athleticism. He has the run skills to run inside and outside. Also, he can also play in the passing game as a receiver, as a blocker. He’s a three-down NFL back. He played in an NFL system and really his one hidden trait is he finds invisible yards at that second level.
Mike Tomlin similarly beamed about his first round pick:
His picking vision is excellent, in terms of finding holes. He shows patience while doing that. He’s a complete back. He’s very good in the passing game, whether it’s routes out of the backfield or aligning outside the backfield. There’s not a lot of holes in his overall game.
Prior to the draft, on Steel City Insider Matt C. Steel observed, “I love his football character and desire to get better. He’s a unique young man; someone I can comfortably add to help create a championship culture.”
Those are intangibles, but they were on display during draft night, when Harris opted not to join the draft party in Cleveland, and instead watch the draft with family from a homeless shelter where he once lived.
On why he watched the draft from Oakland, Harris explained, “Us, as a family, we went through a lot of stuff. That was actually one of the places I stayed at, in the homeless shelter. I just want to make sure they know that if they need a helping hand, I’m always here.”
For my money, that tells you everything you need to know about Najee Harris character.
Najee Harris Video Highlights
While the Steelers do make an effort to incorporate character into their draft day decisions (see guys Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt just to name two), ability on the football field is what drives their decisions.
So here’s a quick look at Najee Harris’ video tape:
Clearly, there’s a lot to like.
How Najee Harris Fits into Steelers Scheme
The Pittsburgh Steelers once proud tradition as a rushing franchise has deteriorated beyond recognition.
And before the finger wagging can start, this has nothing to do with “But ‘Steelers Football’ must evolve beyond ‘3 Yards and a Cloud of Dust.’” Yes, the game has evolved. But while you may not need to be a top rushing team to win a Super Bowl (although it certainly didn’t hurt Denver in 2015 or Seattle in 2013) you must be able to run the ball effectively when you need to.
- And the Pittsburgh Steelers have not been able to do that since James Conner‘s injury in 2018.
- But when you’re dead last in rushing, as the Steelers finished in 2021, a “very good” running back isn’t good enough.
The Steelers need to revitalize their running game, and that revitalization begins with the man carrying the ball. Yes, Pittsburgh needs to pick offensive lineman, preferably later tonight, if Harris is to be effective.
When thinking of the line vs the back debate, remember that Jerome Bettis ran behind some pretty weak offensive lines in 1998 and 1999 as Kordell Stewart’s struggles allowed defenses to crowed 8 men in the box. He still managed 1,000 yard seasons in both years.
Yet last year in the debacle against Washington, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron and Diontae Johnson supposedly stretching the field with Ben Roethlisberger, Snell, Samuels and Anthony McFarland totaled 21 yards rushing.
When Steelers Draft Running Backs 1st, Good Things Happen
The Steelers were expected to draft a running back, although many fans and analysts argue that the value in a running back just isn’t there are 24. Time will answer that question moving forward, but one thing is clear:
- When the Steelers draft a running back first, good things happen.
Pittsburgh Picked Franco Harris in 1972 and the Immaculate Reception and four Super Bowls followed. And while their contributions were minimal, the Steelers won Super Bowl XIV and Super Bowl XLIII after drafting Greg Hawthorne and Rashard Mendenhall.
So welcome to Steelers Nation Najee.