Running back was immediately identified by pretty much everyone as a significant need for the Steelers, and in the days leading up to the draft, a consensus in the mock draft community built that Najee Harris would be the guy. And the Steelers did not surprise anyone, as they took Harris at No. 24 overall.
Harris has been used to accolades and high expectations his whole football-playing life. A five-star recruit out of Antioch High School in the San Francisco suburbs thanks to 94 rushing touchdowns over four years, Harris was basically a top-three overall prospect by 247Sports, ESPN, Rivals and Scout. He received offers from pretty much every single college football powerhouse, committing to the Crimson Tide in 2015.
After a few years, Harris earned significant playing time as a co-lead back with Damien Harris in 2019 before leading the Alabama run game in 2020. In his four years in school he played in three championship games, winning two (2017, 2020). He also was a unanimous All-American in 2020 along with a first-teamer in the SEC and the Doak Walker Award winner for best running back in the nation. Harris even continued his overachieving ways by practicing at the 2021 Reese's Senior Bowl against the wishes of his agents, but didn't play in the game.
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We're breaking down everything you need to know about Harris from a Fantasy manager perspective, including best fits, dynasty outlook, measurables, scouting report, key stats and an NFL comparison.
2021 Fantasy impact
The Steelers thought they had their Le'Veon Bell replacement in James Conner, but he proved unable to hold up to the workload. Because, the thing about the Steelers is, they ask for about as much from their lead running back as any team in the league. Even last season, Conner played at least 65% of the team's snaps in 36 games since the start of 2018, despite dealing with plenty of nagging injuries in that time. And, of course, Bell's usage was massive when he was the guy: He averaged 24.9 touches per game over a five-year stretch with the Steelers, peaking with 28.0 touches per game in 2016.
So, this could be an incredible match of player to team. Harris has true three-down skills, and he's proved he can handle a big workload as a lead back. Sure, he had one of the best offensive lines in football to run behind, but he also broke 20 more tackles than any other running back as a senior, which is pretty impressive.
And, he really doesn't have much competition in Pittsburgh. Their motley collection of Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland Jr., and Jaylen Samuels have given no reason to think any of them are difference makers, so if Harris arrived at camp and looks the part, you should probably expect him to be the lead back for the Steelers.
Which means you should expect him to be a must-start Fantasy option. In my first run of projections, I had Harris as RB20, and then I did another run with a more aggressive projection for him as the lead back, and he came in as RB11. And the upside might be even higher than that. I would probably rank him closer to RB15 overall, and you have to be at least a little concerned about the sorry state of Pittsburgh's offensive line.
But, the Steelers seem to view Harris as their next Bell, and it's not unreasonable to view him in a similar mold from a Fantasy perspective. - Chris Towers
Harris is a little bit older than you'd like from a running back you are likely going to need to invest a top-three pick in rookie drafts for, but it's not like 23 is old. Pittsburgh is just about an ideal landing spot for a player like him, and whatever longevity concerns exist are probably too far in the future to realistically impact how you should view him. Harris can go off the board as early as the No. 2 overall pick in one-QB drafts -- him vs. Travis Etienne might just come down to personal preference -- and he's probably won't make it to the sixth pick even in Superflex or 2QB leagues.
Harris should become a great three-down player, but running backs like him tend to incur injuries at a higher rate than others. He will also be 23 years old when he comes into the NFL with 530 touches over his past two seasons. He's expected to play at a high level, but for how long? That's really the biggest issue because he's otherwise a very polished, NFL-ready feature back who should be in line for a minimum of 15 touches from Week 1 on. Harris is in consideration for the 1.01 selection in every rookie-only draft and won't be there by 1.06.
- Big, strong frame with thick thighs.
- Excelled in both zone and power blocking schemes.
- Excellent at following his blocks. When his blocks disintegrated and he freelanced, his vision to find a new way to roam was very good.
- Powerful, physical runner with low center of gravity. Frequently broke lower-body tackles and arm wraps, sometimes dragging a defender with him, to consistently pick up numbers. Also fell forward for a couple of extra yards at the end of his runs consistently.
- Very good athletic instincts that manifested in jump cuts, blistering spin moves, hurdles and stiff-arms. This tool kit of moves helped him pick up extra yardage often.
- Very fluid when changing directions. Has zero issues running in and through tight spaces.
- Good acceleration and suddenness, especially for a 230-pound runner.
- Reliable ball-carrier: three fumbles (one lost) over entire collegiate career.
- A natural at bringing in receptions. Also good at adjusting to off-target throws. Gets head turned around to look downfield and react quickly to oncoming defenders.
- Available! Only suffered two minor injuries while at Alabama: a foot injury in 2018 that required a cast but he didn't miss a game; and an ankle injury suffered in the 2020 National Championship Game (he practiced at the Senior Bowl weeks later).
- Seems like a bright, thoughtful, mature football player. Team-focused player who regularly praised his offensive line for helping him deliver numbers.
- Had 460 carries and 70 catches across 26 games in 2019-20. Also will be 23 years old when entering the league.
- Patience was inconsistent -- sometimes he waited for his blockers to do their work and he'd flash, sometimes he'd shuffle his feet instead of move forward, sometimes he'd bounce right into a lineman's backside.
- Seemed to run to contact often. Needs to learn to hop out of bounds to preserve his body.
- Created yards through power and agility, not speed. Top speed is solid but will get caught from behind.
- Occasionally got the sense he benefitted from his offensive line clearing space for him. He may not be able to consistently create yards behind a bad offensive line.
- Pass protection needs significant work -- some of his best pass protection snaps involved him barely making contact with defenders and the quarterback just barely getting the ball away.
|2020 v top 25||6||122||673||5.5||8||21||246||11.7||4|
|2019 v top 25||4||90||542||6||4||10||89||8.9||2|
Advanced stats to know
- 962 yards after contact, third-most in college football (PFF)
- 69 missed tackles forced, second-most in college football (PFF)
- 3.26 yards after contact per attempt, a surprisingly low 89th in college football (PFF)
- Only 25 career carries of 20-plus yards
- 22 broken tackles on 43 catches this year
- Just one drop in 2020, just one fumble lost in his entire college career
When you see Harris drag defenders while in an Alabama uniform, you think about Derrick Henry or maybe Eddie Lacy, but he's not as massive as those guys. When you see Harris with good moves in the passing game, you think back to David Montgomery or Kareem Hunt, but Harris profiles as a little more athletic with a little more size. Think about Todd Gurley's collegiate game -- he was strong, tough, physical and versatile. Harris might not be exactly as fast as Gurley, but otherwise, there are some legitimate similarities.