The Pittsburgh Steelers were criticized by many after selecting running back, Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The rookie from Alabama went on to make the Pro Bowl in his first season after racking up over 400 touches, 1,667 total yards and 10 touchdowns all together. Harris is now receiving respect from ESPN in their daily positional rankings leading up to training camp as he could contend for a rushing title in the upcoming season. The ball carriers were ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL and the Steelers offensive focal point came in at #8.
The first note on Harris was related to his usage and production in an environment that wasn’t necessarily great for a rookie:
“The Steelers wasted little time getting Harris acclimated to the NFL, handing him the ball nearly 400 times (307 rushes, 74 catches) despite a suspect offensive line and an aging Ben Roethlisberger under center. Harris responded with a Pro Bowl performance, rushing for 1,200 yards and scoring 10 total touchdowns with zero rushing fumbles.”
An unnamed defensive coach is not very high on the Steelers running back, saying the second-year player isn’t his cup of tea. His numbers were apparently inflated because the offense had no other options:
“Some voters knocked Harris’ lack of speed or explosion. One NFL defensive coach said, ‘Not for me. He had 1,200 yards when everyone knew he was going to run it. They knew the Steelers weren’t throwing deep and their offensive line was terrible.'”
Front Office Executive Speaks Highly Of Steelers Harris
A front office executive respectfully disagreed with the defensive coach:
“But one front-office executive said Harris is great in space because he’s a ‘big person’ at 6-foot-1, 232 pounds with broad shoulders and is a ‘handful in the open field.’ Harris’ 62 rushes for a first down ranked third in the NFL.”
The same exec touched on a couple negatives about Harris and his occasional lack of speed, too.
“The exec explained the problem lies when a play isn’t blocked up well at the line because defenders get good shots on Harris’ big frame, and he is not sudden or fast enough to evade those hits.”
Although not perfect, the front office member gave his stamp of approval about the Steelers ball carrier:
“He doesn’t have quite the juice as some of the other backs, but he’s a really good all-around player, really good in space … and has great hands,” the exec said.
Harris is ranked the highest out of any second-year running back and one of only two on the list with Denver Broncos running back, Javonte Williams being ranked 10th on the list. Being recognized as a top 10 back with names like Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, Christian McCaffrey and Aaron Jones is great company to be in for both Harris and Williams.
The Steelers have the potential to have a very dynamic offense this season with a fresh arm at quarterback and weapons all throughout. The key to Harris rising on this list next off-season is going to depend on the offensive line and the unit’s ability to create holes for the star in the making. He has all the ability to continue on a trajectory to be one of the better running back’s in the franchise’s history.
Do you think Harris’ ranking at #8 is fair and reasonable? Let us know in the comments below!