The Steelers Stock Report is here to give you updates on trends and events that are likely to affect the team in the future. There are few events that affect an NFL team as much as a first round pick. With the Steelers selection of Najee Harris in the 2021 NFL Draft, what ripples does that send through the organization? The Steeler Stock Report is here for that exact reason.
Stock Up: Running back
The Steelers running back room just got a lot better. There’s no denying that. Najee Harris was the top running back in this class, and he will immediately take over as the primary back in the Steelers offense. With James Conner gone the running back room looked to be led by Benny Snell who ran for 426 yards in his rookie year, and ran for less than that last season. Whether you wanted a running back in the first round or not, it is clear that Najee Harris upgrades the position instantly.
Stock Down: Benny Snell
It follows that Benny Snell’s stock just took a nose dive. Mike Tomlin loves feature backs, and he got one. Najee Harris is a three down back and that means Benny Snell’s work will be spot work, and he has been terrible in that role. In his first two seasons when Benny Snell got at least 10 carries in a game he averaged 4.43 yards per carry. When he got less than 10 carries? 1.87 yards per carry. With James Conner in front of him Benny Snell didn’t get a lot of chances to be that main running back. The drafting of Najee Harris means Snell will have even less opportunity in the future, and his role as a backup runner and spot reliever may be in jeopardy, because he is so bad in that role.
Stock Up: The legacy of Le’Veon Bell
I’m not talking about the drama that surrounded Le’Veon Bell’s final years here, but the unique style of runner that he was, and his role in the offense. Reading a scouting report of Najee Harris might sound familiar. Great vision, patience to allow blocks to open lanes, enough size and power to break arm tackles, lower top speed, good route running and really good hands making him a threat as a receiver not just out of the backfield but as a major part of the passing offense. Najee Harris and Le’Veon Bell are different people, Najee Harris isn’t Le’Veon Bell, but it feels like the Steelers saw a chance to get a player who could fill the same roles Le’Veon Bell filled and they took it. When Kevin Colbert said “Najee is as complete a back as we could hope to get,” it sounds like they got their replacement for the back that walked away from a long term deal here.
Stock Down: Analytics
You can read about it lots of places, and hear about it even more, drafting a running back in the first round isn’t worth it. The position isn’t worth it, the career value is too short, you can find better runners later in the draft. . .
The Steelers didn’t listen. Time will tell if they were right to do so, but one thing is clear, when it comes to analytics telling the Steelers what to do, they do not care.
Stock Up: -Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner
The major problem with taking a running back in the first round was how much more difficult it will be to find both a center and tackle that can start in their first season. With center looking like a much bigger need than tackle, the Steelers passing on Tevin Jenkins to draft a running back shows that the Steelers are comfortable putting themselves in a position where both Okorafor and Banner are the likely starters in 2021. That is a pretty good show of faith, as Okorafor has yet to win a starting job, he has only starter because of injury, and while Banner won the right tackle job in 2020, his first game at the position was not only his first NFL start, it was his only NFL to this point, and he will be coming off an injury in 2021.
Stock Down: Upgrading the offensive line
It isn’t just tackle either, there are no guarantees that a top center will be available at pick #55. Upgrading the offensive line is now something that the Steelers have to hope they can do, not something they know they can do. Steeler fans saw in 2020 how important depth on the line was, as rookie Kevin Dotson, backup Chuks Okorafor, and third string center JC Hassenauer all started at least 4 games, and the Steelers offense was worst when they had to start Hassenauer. Quality backups on the offensive line turn into injury replacement starters frequently.
Stock Up: Art Rooney II’s statements
This offseason wasn’t the first time Art Rooney II talked about the run game being a priority, but before this draft those statements led to the same old strategy of using mid round picks on lineman and running backs. That was not the case in the 2021 draft. Mike Tomlin went out of his way at their pre-draft press conference to point out that Art Rooney is the boss, and then he and Kevin Colbert went out and got the best running back in the draft, and you can’t do more than that to show you are listening to the boss.