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Is Najee Harris the cream of the running back crop entering the 2021 NFL Draft?

For teams who are looking for a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, Najee Harris is a name you should will hear a lot.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Ohio State vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of many NFL organizations who could be looking at a running back in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. However, unlike the other franchises who are looking to add to their current quarterback depth chart, the Steelers possess the 24th overall pick.

The question isn’t whether a running back will be available at No. 24, but if there is a running back who is worthy of a first round pick. Last week I talked about quarterbacks, both top tier and mid tier signal callers, and now we dive into the running backs.

After breaking down Javonte Williams of North Carolina and Travis Etienne of Clemson, it is time to discuss another back, with a tremendous skill set, who could be on the Steelers’ radar heading into the draft. That would be none other than Alabama’s Najee Harris.

With Alabama claiming another National Championship in 2020, Harris was on full display during the SEC Championship, and college playoffs. There is no denying his tremendous ability. His size and power, mixed with his elusiveness, are tough to find comparisons to in the National Football League.

There are legitimate concerns about the amount of wear on his frame heading into the NFL, but whoever decides to take Harris will be getting a top tier back who is capable of transcending a running game/offense.

We all know the Steelers will want to add to their running back room, but will it be in the draft, or via Free Agency? As of right now, the Steelers could be poised to take a running back, but I don’t think they would have to, or should, take Harris in the first round.

Don’t listen to me, or anyone else, form your own opinion on Harris. I plan on doing this for other prospects as the draft approaches. If there is a specific player you’d like to see covered, simply let me know and I’ll be glad to put it together!

Let us know your thoughts on Harris in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.


Draft Profiles

Pro Football Network

  • Position: Running Back
  • School: Alabama
  • Current Year: Senior
  • Height: 6’1 7/8″
  • Weight: 230 pounds
  • Wingspan: 81″
  • Arm: 33 3/8″
  • Hand: 10″

Tony Pauline’s Najee Harris Scouting Report

Positives: Outstanding three-down running back with a complete game. Athletic, instinctive, and plays hard on every down. Possesses outstanding vision, instincts, and overall awareness. Runs with outstanding balance as well as body control. Powerful and has defenders bouncing off him as he picks up yardage off initial contact. Runs through tackles, carries defenders for yards at a clip, and does not go down without a fight.

Possesses outstanding short-area quickness as well as a nice stutter step and makes defenders miss. Patiently waits for blocks to develop, consistently runs north and south, and also displays the ability to bounce around piles. Better-than-average skill running around tackle. Displays himself as a solid downfield pass catcher. Gets vertical and adjusts to the errant throw; makes the reception with his hands. Possesses soft pass-catching hands.

Negatives: Plays to one speed, lacks a burst, and cannot run to daylight. Not a truly creative ball carrier who strings several moves together or takes off upfield cutting back against the grain.

Analysis: Harris is a tremendous ball carrier with a three-down game. Though not overly elusive or creative, he has feature-runner potential at the next level. If your offense likes to keep it between the numbers and not run on the perimeter, Harris is a running back for you.

The Draft Network

Harris is a versatile threat that was a rare case of a backfield rusher who played all four seasons in Tuscaloosa. A tall and upright runner, Harris is a blend of power, determination, and versatility as both a between-the-tackles runner and perimeter rushing threat. A comfortable pass-catcher out of the backfield, he’s made strides in his pass-catching ability every season. A running back that can have passing concepts designed around his abilities, he can routinely put second-level defenders in a bind with schemed patterns to attack coverage. A runner that always seems to fall forward when taking on contact, he’s a highly determined and physical rusher who forces defenders to tackle him to the ground through the echo of the whistle. Harris isn’t a running back who contains multiple gears, as he’s a flat-footed runner that paces his way through defenses. Another key attribute on his resume is his ability to finish drives with touchdowns. Few match Harris’ will and “want to” with getting into the end zone, as he led the country in scores in that area last season.

Ideal Role: Featured top option running back.

Scheme Fit: Multiple scheme fit in both man/gap/power and zone-based blocking scheme.

Walter Football

Strengths:

  • Power runner
  • Strength to run through tackles
  • Tremendous stiff arm
  • Contact balance
  • Gets yards after contact
  • Strong lower body
  • Short-yardage asset
  • Keeps feet going after contact
  • Can move the pile
  • Good speed
  • Acceleration
  • Quick first-step to hit the hole
  • Second gear in the open field
  • Instinctive runner
  • Excellent vision
  • Superb patience
  • Can create for himself
  • Anticipation
  • Cutting ability
  • Quick feet
  • Receiving ability
  • Quality route-runner
  • Good enough hands
  • Excellent body lean to run low
  • Runs behind pads
  • Bends at the knee
  • Decisive runner
  • Blocking ability
  • Advanced pass protector
  • Skilled quarterback protector
  • Three-down starter ability

Weaknesses:

  • Good, but not great, speed
  • Strong runner, but not overwhelmingly physical

Player Comparison: Mark Ingram. Harris like a bigger version of Ingram. Both are physical backs with the quickness and the versatility to contribute as blockers or receivers. I could see Harris having an NFL career similar to Ingram’s.

NFL.com

What I liked: Harris has a tall, athletic frame for the running back position. He’s a smooth, fluid runner with a gliding gate. He’s very patient on inside runs and has the ability to get skinny through traffic. He drops his pads on contact and possesses tremendous contact balance. He’s elusive in the open field and can deploy a nasty stiff-arm.

The 2019 second-team All-SEC selection is very valuable as a pass catcher in this offense, too. He excels in the screen game, where he understands how to patiently set up blocks and pile up big yardage. He sets up defenders on angle routes underneath and can track and high-point the ball down the field. His hands are outstanding. He’s very aware in pass protection and is willing to stick his face in the fan (still one of my favorite scouting phrases) versus blitzing linebackers.

Where he needs to improve: The major knock on Harris is his lack of top-end speed. He doesn’t possess ideal explosiveness or burst. However, his long stride can be a little deceiving and he might time a little better than anticipated when he tests prior to next year’s draft. Also, while I love his awareness and willingness in pass protection, he’s too narrow and gives up too much ground. If he learns to sink his weight and create a more balanced platform, he should improve in this area.

Biggest takeaway: I loved watching Harris on tape. His game is so smooth and effortless. He has a natural running style and his feel/instincts make up for his lack of elite speed. He isn’t going to be a home-run hitter at the next level, but he’s going to pile up a bunch of doubles. What does that mean? Well, it means he’s going to routinely turn 2- and 3-yard runs into 12- and 15-yard runs. He is going to excel in short yardage and he’ll be an asset out of the backfield on third down.

He reminds me of: I wrote down Matt Forte at the top of my notes about 10 plays into my study of the LSU game. The two players share the same build and smooth/easy running style. Forte had a little more juice, but they are both physical, instinctive runners with added value in the passing game. Another name that popped into my mind was Eddie George. However, George was bigger and more violent as a runner. It will be interesting to see how the league values Harris in the draft. My advice: Ignore the 40-yard-dash time. He’s going to be an excellent pro.


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