With the No. 24 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Steelers select Alabama running back Najee Harris….
Najee Harris Career Statistics
Harris is coming off 1,528- and 1,891-yard seasons at Alabama with 50 total touchdowns the past two seasons. His 30 touchdowns in 2020 were an SEC record.
A true workhorse in every sense, Harris accounted for 66.0% of the Alabama touches in 2020, the highest share of team touches for any running back in this class. Harris checked in at 6’3” and 230 pounds at the Senior Bowl. While that is still not quite as much of a monster as Derrick Henry was leaving Alabama, one thing Harris has coming into the NFL is that offers legitimate receiving chops for his frame as opposed to typical bully-backs of his size.
Harris caught 43 passes (9.9 Y/R) in his final season, a mark bested by only Saquon Barkley and Steven Jackson for backs over 225 pounds in their final college season since 2000. Of course, those two backs were also early-declares and younger prospects. That is not a killer by any means, as non-early declare backs with high draft capital have found much more success than their wide receiver counterparts, but it is the one thorn in an otherwise clean profile for what you would want from a three-down back entering the league. Harris is not as explosive as the next two backs in terms of long gains on the ground, but offers plenty of athleticism for his size.
Entering this offseason, James Conner is gone, leaving the Steelers with three backs they have drafted in Rounds 4-5 over the past three drafts in Anthony McFarland, Benny Snell, and Jaylen Samuels to go along with Kalen Ballage, who they added a one-year deal this offseason. Harris should have the immediate workload he can handle if the Steelers can establish anything on the ground compared to the past two seasons.
The Steelers had transitioned to a pass-first team several years ago in Roethlisberger’s late stages of his career, but this running game has completely flatlined the past two seasons as they have finished dead last in expected points added via rushing in each of the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
In 2020, just 28.7% of the Pittsburgh rushing attempts went for more than five yards, the lowest rate in the league.
The Steelers finished the season 24th in ESPN’s Run Block Win Rate metric (69%) and lost three starters from that unit with Maurkice Pouncey retiring, right tackle Alejandro Villanuev still a free agent, and left guard Matt Feiler leaving via free agency this offseason.
Pittsburgh has Feiler’s replacement in house already in Kevin Dotson, who they selected in the fourth round last season. Dotson only played 358 snaps last season, but was credited with just one pressure and hurry allowed on his 219 pass blocking snaps.
31-year-old David DeCastro is locked in at right guard, but is also in the final year of his current contract. Left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor is also in the final season of his contract and graded out dead last at Pro Football Focus among 104 qualifying tackles last season.
Both centers JC Hassenauer and B.J. Finney are also only under contract for 2021, but look for the Steelers to add to this offensive line over the remainder of the draft.
Early 2021 Najee Harris Projection: 245 carries, 1,054 yards, 7 TD, 57 targets, 43 receptions, 322 yards, 1 TD