I was doing the Steelers Hangover podcast on Monday afternoon with Bryan Anthony Davis and Shannon White (a show you can download on any audio platform, btw).
When it came to the point in the show when we all had to name a team MVP for 2021, Bryan picked Najee Harris, the rookie running back from Alabama and Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Bryan also selected Harris to be the team’s rookie of the year (we all did).
Anyway, I can’t speak for anyone else, but when Bryan predicted Harris would be the team’s MVP in 2021, I didn’t think twice about it (I actually thought my prediction of Minkah Fitzpatrick was more out of left field). To me, that speaks volumes when it comes to the impression the rookie running back has already made on Steeler Nation.
We heard the stories out of training camp about how tough Harris was to bring down and how athletic he appeared to be while making catches out of the backfield and even hurdling teammates. I personally witnessed Harris drag veteran linebacker Melvin Ingram into the end zone during a training camp drill back in August.
Harris wasn’t much of a workhorse during Pittsburgh’s four preseason games, but that was by design. The plan is for Harris to be the workhorse—the bell cow running back—during the regular season, and most are confident that he’ll be up to the task. You can point to the flashes of brilliance Harris showed during his limited touches in August. He didn’t gain a ton of yardage, but the potential to do so when unleashed was evident.
That brings me to this question: why are some still lamenting the fact that the Steelers didn’t address the offensive line with their first-round pick way back in April? Knowing what we know now, it was an either/or situation. Either they were going to draft a tackle in the first round or they were going to select Harris.
They weren’t going to be able to do both—in other words, no way was Harris going to be available at pick 55.
Looking back on it, it's hard finding fault with Pittsburgh's decision.
I don’t know how much folks remember about the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater were long gone by the time Pittsburgh went on the clock at 24. Alex Leatherwood and Christian Darrisaw were the next two tackles to go, with Darrisaw getting selected one slot ahead of the Steelers. Therefore, the only way Pittsburgh could have gotten one of those four tackles was by trading up.
How about Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, Walker Little, Jackson Carmen, Sam Cosmi, Dillon Radunz or Jalen Mayfield? They were all still available at 24.
Mayfield, as well as center Creed Humphrey, could have been had in the second round. However, that would have prevented the selection of tight end Pat Freiermuth, Mr. co-TE1 heading into Week 1.
The funny thing is, the Steelers actually drafted a tackle who appears to have won the starting job over on the left side heading into the regular season; I’m talking about Dan Moore Jr., the fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M. Moore entered training camp as somewhat of an afterthought for being a fourth-round pick and all, yet he seemed to get better with each passing week and graded out well during the preseason—that is, of course, if you believe in sites like Pro Football Focus.
Wasn’t that the point all along, to draft a tackle who was talented enough to start as a rookie? Why should it matter that Moore was a fourth-round pick? Maybe you think he won the job by default thanks to the struggles of Chukwuma Okorafor. OK, but if Moore wasn’t good enough, why didn’t the team just turn to Joe Haeg, the veteran it signed in the spring?
That brings me back to Harris. Would you really trade his potential now for the possibility of drafting one of the available tackles in the first round?
I know what you’re going to say: running backs shouldn’t be taken in the first round.
Yeah, but what if they have a chance to be really special, perhaps even the team MVP as a rookie?
You think about it.