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Is Najee Harris the next Le’Veon Bell for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Will Najee Harris be the feature back the Steelers haven’t had since Le’Veon Bell left in free agency?

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Notre Dame vs Alabama Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The next Le’Veon Bell.

Before you go any further, I want to make something extremely clear to the Pittsburgh Steelers fan reading this article. Throughout this piece I will compare Najee Harris to Le’Veon Bell, on the field. Not off the field. Not at the end of his rookie contract. As a player. Nothing less, nothing more.

Okay, with that out of the way, I was reading through the Najee Harris introductory press conference transcripts recently, and he was asked about the Steelers’ offense and what he knew about it.

Harris said he didn’t know much about Matt Canada, but knew how the Steelers have used Le’Veon Bell in the past, this under Todd Haley. Here is what Harris told the media:

“...especially during the time Le’Veon [Bell] was here. Just how they use them [running backs] in the passing game, and in the running game. Just how they use them as three-down backs, and I liked how he [Bell] was lined up wide. I feel like I can do all of that stuff, if not better. I’m excited to learn more.”

“If not better.”

That portion of the sentence caught my attention, for obvious reasons, but also got me thinking about Harris. Everything from his stature to his playing style. It made me question whether he is the Steelers’ next Le’Veon Bell?

I decided to do a little tale of tape, and go back to Bell when he was entering the league in 2013 after spending three seasons with the Michigan State Spartans. Just look at their height and weight:

Najee Harris
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 232lbs.

Le’Veon Bell
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 230lbs.

But the almost freaky comparisons between the two players goes well beyond height and weight. Just look at some of their testing numbers. It should be noted Harris’ numbers came from his Pro Day with the NFL Scouting Combine canceled, while Bell’s came from the combine.

40-yard dash time:
Harris: 4.59
Bell: 4.6

20-yard shuttle:
Harris: 3.7
Bell: 4.24

Vertical Jump:
Harris: 38.5
Bell: 31.5

Bench Press:
Harris: 18
Bell: 24

3-Cone Drill:
Harris: 7.35
Bell: 6.75

I have to admit, by the time I had found all the measurables, I was interested to see what kind of statistics both brought with them when they decided to go pro. Take a look at their college statistics, both rushing and receiving.

College Statistics

Najee Harris, Alabama (4 seasons)

Attempts: 638
Yards: 3,843
Yards per Carry: 6.0
Rushing TDs: 46

Receptions: 80
Receiving Yards: 781
Yards per Reception: 9.8
Receiving TDs: 11

Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State (3 seasons)

Attempts: 671
Yards: 3,346
Yards per Carry: 5.0
Rushing TDs: 33

Receptions: 78
Receiving Yards: 531
Yards per Reception: 6.8
Receiving TDs: 1

One of the biggest criticisms of Harris coming into the 2021 NFL Draft was the amount of miles on his proverbial tires. Compared to Travis Etienne, who was drafted No. 25 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Javonte Williams, who went to the Denver Broncos in the second round, Harris had the most carries to his name. But look at the carries between Harris, who spent 4 years at Alabama, and Bell, who spent just 3 at Michigan State.

Were people saying this was a negative as Bell entered the NFL? Were people mentioning this as he tore up the league in 2014 and 2015? The answer is a resounding no.

But maybe you are more of a visual learner. Just check out some highlights of both Harris and Bell while in college. Of course, you see some sloppy defense, but also a ridiculous amount of similarities between the two ball carriers.

Najee Harris Highlights

Le’Veon Bell Highlights

My goodness, the similarities between the two are uncanny. They both run the ball well inside and outside, both lack true break away speed, both have tremendous receiving abilities and both used the hurdle to make a name for themselves as runners in the open field.

So, after all of this, what is the conclusion? The conclusion is Harris has every tool Bell had when he came to the Steelers, and to suggest he couldn’t turn into the next Bell, on the field, isn’t out of the question. A lot of this falls on Matt Canada to see what he has in Harris, and utilize his skill set to better the Steelers’ offense. Haley was able to do that with Bell, and it will be up to Canada to turn Harris into a mismatch nightmare in every facet.

Some are talking about a potential return of Bell if he doesn’t find a team by the start of the 2021 regular season, I ask why when they have the next Bell on their roster for at least the next four years.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the upcoming NFL schedule release, and the 2021 regular season.