By Jeremy Hritz
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Najee Harris Links
Overview of Najee Harris, Running Back
That’s pretty strong praise from a coach who usually is reserved in his effusiveness for younger players, and when watching Harris’s film, it’s easy to see Tomlin’s evaluation.
Last evening at pick #24, the stars aligned, as Harris was available when the Steelers were on the clock to make their first selection, and without any hesitation, the pick was Harris. A “complete” running back in every sense of the description, Harris can acquire the difficult yards, identify the tiniest of available spaces to exploit for a gain, catch the ball out of the backfield, as well as lined up as a receiver, and wear down a defense as a game wears on. Immediately, the Steelers’ running game is improved, and optimism around a rejuvenated ground game is abound for the 2021 season.
Strengths of Harris
Harris has the vision necessary to turn what looks to be no gain into a 3-4 yard carry, always generating forward movement to keep an offensive drive alive. Factor in airtight ball security coupled with a physicality at the position, Harris is a bell cow back who can handle 25-30 carries a game and wear down an opposing defense. Has patience is allowing for blocks to develop and then utilizing them effectively for a gain, his running style is akin to Le’Veon Bell, without as much hesitation and dancing. Gives major effort in pass protection and is a sure handed-receiver, Harris truly does check mostly all the boxes.
Areas for Growth for Harris
The two primary concerns for Harris are a) can he provide the explosive, homerun element to the offense, and b) can he hold up under an extensive number of carries. Harris’s longest run of his career occurred this past year against Notre Dame for 53 yards. While he may not be able to deliver the 60, 70, 80 yard burst a la Travis Etienne, his explosive running capabilities are more Bell than they are Barry Sanders. But you don’t necessarily need that element when you provide the steadiness and completeness he does at the position. The concern around Harris’s game is whether or not he can avoid injury, considering the 638 carries he had at Alabama. The history around running backs with significant wear on their tires can translate into injuries, which is cause for caution for the Steelers, especially Tomlin’s belief in running a player until the wheels fall off (see Willie Parker). Conditioning, flexibility, and the development of Anthony McFarland and Bennie Snell can help to alleviate this concern.
How Does Najee Harris Fit Into the Steelers Depth Chart?
Harris is immediately at the head of the table in the running back room, unquestionably. He steps in as the Steelers workhorse, and barring injury, he will get the bulk of the carries from day one. The interesting development to pay attention to is how this influences the likes of Bennie Snell, Anthony McFarland, and Kalen Ballage, who was signed as a free agent this offseason. Snell and Ballage are more Harris than McFarland, and I can foresee McFarland being the complement to Harris’s steadiness with his ability, unyet realized, to break off a massive run. Snell, and Ballage if he makes the team, provide more of the power element, and will probably be role players in short-yardage situations. Under Matt Canada’s new offensive philosophy, it will be interesting to see how the carries are divided, and the concept he employs to capitalize on the skill sets of his stable of runners.
What Will Najee Harris Contribute in Year One?
Make no mistake about it, the pressure will be on Harris to produce in year one. Anything less than 1000 yards, unfortunately and maybe unfairly, will be considered a disappointment. Harris is NFL-ready and from week 1, he will get a steady dose of carries. Will he be more Trent Richardson, or Derrick Henry?
Steelers Comparable Player
As mentioned earlier, he is similar to Bell, but more complete and more polished. Let’s just hope he isn’t similar in the character category.
What Did This New Steeler Study?
Harris graduated with a degree in Consumer Sciences, with a minor in Social Welfare. You can learn more about this program at the University of Alabama’s website by clicking HERE.
Yay, Nay, or OK?
This is definitely a YAY pick! Fits a major need for the team, and automatically makes the team better. Now the work begins to strengthen the offensive line on days 2 and 3 of the draft.