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Todd McShay Mock Draft: Steelers ignore history and take running back in first round

The Pittsburgh Steelers address the running back position in a big way with Todd McShay’s latest Mock Draft.

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

The new league year is set to begin in just under two weeks, and the NFL Draft experts are out in full force getting their predictions, mock drafts, out to the public before NFL team needs change drastically when free agency begins.

Once the tampering period starts on March 15th, these mock drafts will change depending on which team makes which moves in free agency. For instance, if the Pittsburgh Steelers were to go out and sign a free agent center, it would move the center position further down their draft board prior to the 2021 NFL Draft.

With that in mind, ESPN NFL Draft expert Todd McShay released his latest mock draft, and he has the Steelers doing something many fans dread they will do — take a running back in the first round. Many fans would be on board with McShay’s prediction, but the recent history dictates the Steelers wouldn’t have to take a big name running back in the first round to revive their dead running game. In fact, most would agree it should be the offensive line which is the focal point for the team heading into the draft process.

Nonetheless, here is who McShay has the Steelers taking in his latest mock draft:

24. Pittsburgh Steelers

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

Ben Roethlisberger is now under contract for 2021, and he has plenty of weapons. But with James Conner heading toward free agency, the run game could use a punch. Harris is that and more, showcasing speed, size, decisiveness and ball security as a rusher, as well as upside as a receiver and pass-protector. Pittsburgh’s offense fell off a good deal in the second half last season, and the top back still on the roster is Benny Snell Jr., who managed just 3.3 yards per carry last year. Harris averaged 6.0 over four seasons at Alabama, and his 26 rushing touchdowns in 2020 led college football.

Brooke Pryor on his fit with the Steelers: For a team that started 11-0, the Steelers have a laundry list of needs in the 2021 draft, and running back is in the top tier of that wish list. Harris would be an instant starter on a team likely to part with Conner in free agency. The Steelers badly need to rejuvenate the run game and actually stick with it this season. Adding Harris is the first step.

Harris is a well-known name for those who watch college football. His play for Alabama speaks for itself, especially as the Crimson Tide rolled on to yet another National Championship in 2020. But if you aren’t as familiar with Harris, below is a draft profile of the running back, via 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 endzone, 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.

What do you think of the Steelers taking Harris in the first round? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.