The Pittsburgh Steelers have selected Alabama RB Najee Harris with the 24th selection of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Good news, Steelers Nation. After being subjected to a mind numbing amount of mock drafts and plenty of unsubstantiated speculation during what seemed like an inordinately long pre-draft process, minus the Scouting Combine to break up the monotony, the 2021 NFL Draft is finally upon us. I have been given the distinguished task of trying to apply a letter grade to each Steelers selection.
There are specific criteria necessary when attempting to accurately and fairly grade any draft pick. Only time will reveal the validity of any grade given, but I will utilize certain parameters as I attempt to apply an initial grade for each Steelers draft pick. I base each grade on projected roster fit, potential immediate impact, and assumed draft value. Draft value is achieved by evaluating each players actual selection against their projected draft position, whether that be player rankings or projected round.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected RB Najee Harris from the National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide with the 24th selection of the 2021 NFL Draft. The pick came as no real surprise to any Steelers fan who has been paying attention during the pre-draft process. GM Kevin Colbert and HC Mike Tomlin never even tried to hide the fact they were enamored with the bruising young back. The Steelers have paid lip service to their desire to improve their steadily declining rushing attack over the past few years, but after hitting rock bottom by finishing dead last in the league in that department last season the Steelers are finally putting their money where their mouth is with this pick. There is no where to go but up.
Harris is a punishing power back that stands 6’2″ and weighs 230 lbs. He is a well rounded back that never has to leave the field because he possesses excellent hands and receiving skills. He is also a willing and able pass protector. Although he handled the football early and often throughout his collegiate career, he has tremendous ball security and rarely ever fumbles the rock. He has solid athleticism, but lacks the extra gear necessary for breakaway runs. He still breaks longer runs on occasion thanks to the best stiff arm in this draft class and some nice high hurdle abilities in the open field.
I give the Steelers first round selection of Najee Harris an initial draft grade of A.
There are multiple reasons why I have arrived at that conclusion. The Steelers obviously had a plan coming into the draft, and they didn’t deviate from that plan. Colbert referenced the unusually deep center class this year, which is a huge area of need for the Steelers as they strive to rebuild their offensive line and improve their rushing attack. The running back class was nowhere near as deep, considered top heavy with the Big Three. The Steelers weren’t willing to gamble that one of the three would still be there when their next selection rolled around.
The Steelers are getting an outstanding young man of character by all accounts. Harris is a high effort kind of runner, always striving for extra yards rather than running out of bounds in a act of self preservation. He is renowned as an exemplary teammate, and displayed his team first mentality and determination by driving all night to attend Alabama’s initial pro day after his flight was cancelled. That would be impressive in it’s own right, but even more so when you realize he wasn’t even scheduled to participate in any workouts that day. He just wanted to show support for his teammates who were. That is the type of behavior reserved for a champion, a trait no doubt learned from his time with the Crimson Tide.
Harris, like so many draft prospects, had to overcome a tough upbringing to get to where he is now. He realizes his potential impact and influence in the community, and has already started giving back. He helped organize a pre-draft party at a homeless shelter he had to frequent as a youth with his family. His maturity will fit perfectly with the Steelers culture.
A lot of national pundits are already comparing Harris to Le’Veon Bell because of his three down abilities and versatility, but I think another former Steelers rusher is a far better comparison: Franco Harris. Franco was a upright runner with superior length and power who excelled running between the tackles. Like Franco, Najee seems to take his performance up a notch when the pressure is the highest. Franco even campaigned for the Steelers to select Najee, believing he would help improve the running game. I concur.
Najee Harris was the top rated running back on many draft boards, and he is a plug and play starter for the Steelers the moment he arrives at the facilities. He instantly improves the Steelers stable of running backs, allowing each to focus on their particular skill set. Not only does Harris fill a huge need for the Steelers offense, he also serves as another example of the Steelers commitment to a rather obvious change in philosophy on the offensive side of the ball.
Now we want to hear from the BTSC community and from Steelers Nation. What do you think about the Najee Harris selection and what initial grade would you give it. Please place your vote in the attached poll and share your reasoning in the comment section below.
I am pleased to welcome Najee Harris to the Steelers family on behalf of the BTSC staff and community. Go Steelers!