The Pittsburgh Steelers wasted little time selecting Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and his play last season was more than enough to prove himself worthy of that selection. He didn’t just set franchise records at the position, but also led the NFL in touches as he grinded out a full 17-game schedule along with a playoff game.
Throughout it all, Harris turned heads and has been receiving recognition for his play as a rookie. Most recently, ESPN ranked their Top 10 players at every position, and Jeremy Fowler released the Top 10 running backs. On that list was Harris, but first let’s go over what went into this list.
Here’s how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, hundreds of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 50 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with our rankers. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy — even the honorable mentions.
So, where did Harris rank among the best running backs in the league? Let’s take a look...
The Top 10 Running Backs
1. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
2. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
3. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
4. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
5. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
6. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
7. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
8. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Highest ranking: 3 | Lowest ranking: Out of top 10
Age: 24 | Last year’s ranking: Unranked (rookie)
The Steelers wasted little time getting Harris acclimated to the NFL, handing him the ball nearly 400 times (307 rushes, 74 catches) despite a suspect offensive line and an aging Ben Roethlisberger under center. Harris responded with a Pro Bowl performance, rushing for 1,200 yards and scoring 10 total touchdowns with zero rushing fumbles.
Some voters knocked Harris’ lack of speed or explosion. One NFL defensive coach said, “Not for me. He had 1,200 yards when everyone knew he was going to run it. They knew the Steelers weren’t throwing deep and their offensive line was terrible.”
But one front-office executive said Harris is great in space because he’s a “big person” at 6-foot-1, 232 pounds with broad shoulders and is a “handful in the open field.” Harris’ 62 rushes for a first down ranked third in the NFL. The exec explained the problem lies when a play isn’t blocked up well at the line because defenders get good shots on Harris’ big frame, and he is not sudden or fast enough to evade those hits.
“He doesn’t have quite the juice as some of the other backs, but he’s a really good all-around player, really good in space ... and has great hands,” the exec said.
So, after looking at the above list, what do you think of where Harris is ranked? Do you think he should be ranked higher? Is he ranked too high? Let us know your thoughts on the list in the comment section below.
On top of that, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for rest of the offseason and the players report to training camp on July 26th at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.