I know what you’re going to say about the title—at least on social media—“I don’t have a choice!”
Having opinions, feelings and meltdowns before the draft is one thing; holding true to those opinions and feelings—but hopefully not the meltdowns—well after the event is quite another.
But that’s what I’ve spent the past year reading and hearing from many fans and some in the media when they go back and revisit the Steelers' most recent first-round pick. I’m talking about running back Najee Harris, the 24th selection of the 2021 NFL Draft.
“I still say the Steelers should have invested in the offensive line with last year's first-round pick,” say a lot of people, this despite Harris tallying 1200 yards on the ground and another 467 yards through the air on 74 catches during his rather successful rookie season.
It’s true that Harris did average a touch under four yards per carry—3.9, to be exact—which isn’t a Hall of Fame pace for an NFL running back (unless you’re Jerome Bettis).
But whose fault was that, Harris’ or an offensive line that was going through a massive overhaul?
“Gotcha!” is something you might feel like typing right now. Yes, yards were hard to come by for Harris a season ago, and the offensive line may have been even worse than it was in 2020. But it’s like I keep saying: The fixing of the offensive line wasn’t going to happen overnight; just because the Steelers didn’t invest a first-round pick in a tackle, center or guard last spring, that doesn’t mean they didn’t make an honest effort to try and improve the unit.
Dan Moore, a fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M, made the team, won the starting left tackle job, and started 16 games. Obviously, Kendrick Green, a third-round pick out of Illinois, didn’t exactly impress at center and is a pretty decent-sized question mark heading into his second season. However, the Steelers did address the interior of their offensive line in March when they signed both James Daniels and Mason Cole in free agency.
Is that enough? Who knows? But the Steelers have the opportunity to continue to address the offensive line in the 2022 NFL Draft—maybe even in the first round.
While the offensive line is still under construction, is there any doubt about Harris’ abilities after 2021? If so, why?
I know you’re concerned about his health and durability. Running backs have suddenly become a horrible investment in the first round. But this doesn’t mean Harris was a horrible draft pick, even if Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus recently said No. 22 was the worst first-round pick out of last year’s draft.
What was Spielberger’s main point? Long-term durability. But if long-term health is how all running backs are going to be judged from now on, why not just do away with the position like the league mostly has with fullbacks? But it doesn't look like the NFL will be doing that anytime soon, so it would be foolish to give running backs the "dime a dozen" treatment and act like there aren't varying degrees of talent.
Harris was clearly the best running back going into the 2021 draft and would have never been available late in the second round.
Fact is, every player drafted after Harris last year is still a huge question mark—including all of those tackles, guards and centers. Nobody knows how any of them will be performing five years from now or if they’ll succumb to the physical toll all football players endure—not just running backs.
That brings me back to 2022. Will you accept whoever the Steelers pick in the first round of the upcoming draft? Again, I realize you ultimately won't have a choice, but will you continue to harp on it well after the event has concluded—even if the player goes on to have a rather successful rookie campaign?
Maybe you should accept it. After all, those pre-draft big boards—especially the ones sitting in many man/woman caves all around Steeler Nation—aren’t written in stone.
Neither is the future health status of running back Najee Harris.