Najee Harris was quite pleased upon being selected by the Steelers in this year's NFL Draft. That being said, he didn't love seeing 23 players get selected before his name was called.
Five quarterbacks, five offensive linemen, four receivers, one tight end, and eight defensive players were selected before Harris, the first running back taken in the draft. Harris was one of just two running backs taken in the first round, with Clemson's Travis Etienne -- taken by the Jaguars with the 25th pick -- being the other.
"Yeah, it was extremely frustrating," Harris said of watching nearly two dozen players get selected before him, via DKPittsburghSports. "Especially having this draft party and inviting everybody out and not knowing what's going to happen. But yeah ... running backs are devalued. I can give numerous reasons why we shouldn't be devalued. Just knowing that, hey, you're better than all these guys, it's just that you play running back."
Harris and Etienne will try to change the narrative currently surrounding running backs. And while the running back position may no longer be king of the hill, several teams this century have benefited by selecting a running back in the first round. With that in mind, we decided to rank each running back that was selected in the first round between 2000-20. Given that the rankings focused primarily on overall career achievements, don't look too far into where current players rank on the following list -- they could very well end up on top once they call it a career.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson
No. 5 overall pick, 2001 draft
Chargers (2001-09); Jets (2010-11)
A 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Tomlinson led the NFL in rushing two times and rushing touchdowns three times. Tomlinson was named league MVP in 2006 after scoring an NFL-record 31 touchdowns. Three years earlier, Tomlinson became the first running back to catch 100 passes in a single season (incredibly, Tomlinson was not named to the Pro Bowl that year). The seventh-leading rusher in NFL history, Tomlinson posted eight consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons en route to being named to the NFL's All-2000s Team.
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No. 7 overall pick, 2007 draft
Vikings (2007-16); Saints/Cardinals (2017); Washington (2018-19); Lions (2020)
The fifth-leading rusher in NFL history, Peterson is a three-time rushing champion and member of the NFL's All-2010s Team. In 2012, "AD" was named league MVP after rushing for 2,097 yards, the second-highest total in NFL history. In 2015, Peterson became the second-oldest player in league history to lead the NFL in rushing. At age 36, the future Hall of Famer is hoping to land on a Super Bowl contender for the 2021 season.
12th overall pick, 2007 draft
Bills (2007-10); Seahawks (2010-15, 2019); Raiders (2017-18)
Lynch made his first Pro Bowl in Buffalo, but his "Beast Mode" persona was born in Seattle. The owner of the iconic "Beast Quake" run in the 2010 playoffs, Lynch was among the league's best running backs from 2011-14. During that span, Lynch made four Pro Bowls, one All-Pro, and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons. He also helped lead the Seahawks to two NFC titles as well as a victory in Super Bowl XLVIII. Lynch is 29th all time on the regular-season career rushing list and eighth on the playoff career rushing list.
24th overall pick, 2004 draft
Rams (2004-12); Falcons (2013-14); Patriots (2015)
A big, physical back at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Jackson ripped off eight straight 1,000-yard seasons from 2005-12. His best season took place in 2006, when Jackson rumbled for 1,528 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Rams. After nine seasons in St. Louis, Jackson signed with the Falcons, who were coming off of a 13-3 season and appearance in the NFC title game. The Falcons won just 10 games during Jackson's two seasons in Atlanta, however, thus leading to Jackson signing with the Patriots with the hope of winning a championship. In what would be his final NFL game, Jackson scored a touchdown in New England's 20-18 loss to Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship Game. Jackson is 18th on the NFL's career rushing list, just ahead of Hall of Fame running backs John Riggins and O.J. Simpson.
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5. Jamal Lewis
No. 5 overall pick, 2000 draft
Ravens (2000-06); Browns (2007-09)
How good was Lewis? As a rookie, he started over future All-Pro Priest Holmes. That season, Lewis rushed for nearly 1,400 yards while helping lead Baltimore to its first Super Bowl title. After missing the entire 2001 season with an injury, Lewis rushed for over 1,000 yards in six out of the next seven seasons. In 2003, Lewis became the fifth member of the 2,000-yard rushing club while coming within 40 yards of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record. After seven active seasons in Baltimore, Lewis played three more seasons in Cleveland, where he posted two more 1,000-yard rushing seasons. A member of the NFL's All-2000s Team, Lewis is 25th all time on the NFL's career rushing list.
24th overall pick, 2008 draft
Titans (2008-13); Jets (2014); Cardinals (2015-17)
The speedy Johnson earned Pro Bowl honors during his first three seasons with the Titans. In 2009, Johnson became the sixth member of the NFL's 2,000-yard club after rushing for a league-high 2,006 yards. Johnson tallied six 1,000-yard campaigns in Nashville before spending one season with the Jets. He then resurfaced in Arizona, where he was the Cardinals' leading rusher before an injury prematurely ended his 2015 season. Johnson had just 70 carries during the 2016 and '17 seasons before announcing his retirement in 2018. Johnson's 9,651 rushing yards are good for 35th on the all-time list, ahead of Hall of Famers Earl Campbell, Jim Taylor and Larry Csonka, among others.
7. Shaun Alexander
19th overall pick, 2000 draft
Seahawks (2000-07); Washington (2008)
One of the league's best running backs during his heyday, Alexander averaged 1,500 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns per season from 2001-05. A Pro Bowler each season from 2003-05, Alexander won league MVP in 2005 after leading the league in rushing yards (1,880) and rushing touchdowns (27). His success that season helped the Seahawks advance to their first Super Bowl. Injuries in subsequent seasons, however, led to a drastic drop in Alexander's production. Despite his abbreviated prime, Alexander is 36th on the league's career rushing list. He is also a member of the NFL's All-2000s Team.
8. Thomas Jones
No. 7 overall pick, 2000 draft
Cardinals (2000-02); Buccaneers (2003); Bears (2004-06); Jets (2007-09); Chiefs (2010-11)
Thomas received just 18 starts during his first four NFL seasons. Things changed after Thomas joined the Bears, where he would rush for 3,493 yards in three seasons while helping Chicago capture the NFC title in 2006. Thomas continued to have success with the Jets, where he posted three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons while earning his lone Pro Bowl selection in 2008. Thomas, who finished his career with the Chiefs, is 26th all time on the league's career rushing list.
9. DeAngelo Williams
27th overall pick, 2006 draft
Panthers (2006-14); Steelers (2015-16)
A 2009 Pro Bowler, Williams led the league in rushing touchdowns in 2008 and in 2015. Formerly the Panthers' career rushing leader, Williams enjoyed a late career resurgence in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers went 10-4 with Williams in the starting lineup. Williams retired with 10,202 all-purpose yards and 70 total touchdowns.
10. Mark Ingram
28th overall pick, 2011 draft
Saints (2011-18); Ravens (2019-20); Texans (2021)
After a somewhat slow start, Ingram has put together an impressive pro career. A three-time Pro Bowler, Ingram enjoyed considerable success in New Orleans before rushing for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Ravens in 2019. Ingram -- who is entering his first season with the Texans -- is currently 60th on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
11. Reggie Bush
No. 2 overall pick, 2006 draft
Saints (2006-10); Dolphins (2011-12); Lions (2013-14); 49ers (2015); Bills (2016)
While his career may not have lived up to his pre-draft hype, Bush nonetheless enjoyed a fruitful NFL career. As a rookie, Bush caught 88 passes to help lead the Saints to their first NFC Championship Game. Three years later, he helped the Saints win the franchise's only Super Bowl title. Bush enjoyed more success after leaving New Orleans. He rushed for over 1,000 yards (while averaging 5 yards per carry) for the Dolphins in 2011. He hit the 1,000-yard mark again for the Lions in 2013.
11. Willis McGahee
23rd overall pick, 2003 draft
Bills (2004-06); Ravens (2007-10); Broncos (2011-12); Browns (2013)
The Bills drafted McGahee with the understanding that he would need time to heal a serious knee injury sustained during the 2003 national championship. After rehabbing for the 2003 season, McGahee rushed for 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2004 while leading the Bills to the precipice of the postseason. A 1,000-yard rusher for three different franchises, McGahee earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 2007 as a member of the Ravens. In 2011, the 30-year-old running back earned his second Pro Bowl selection while helping the Broncos advance to the divisional round of the playoffs. McGahee is 41st all time on the career rushing list, an incredible achievement considering the significance of his 2003 knee injury.
12. Deuce McAllister
23rd overall pick, 2001 draft
A backup in 2001, McAllister became the Saints' starting running back after the team traded Ricky Williams in 2002. A two-time Pro Bowler, McAllister is the only running back in Saints history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. His best season occurred in 2003, when he rushed for 1,641 yards while also recording 516 receiving yards. And while an injury in 2007 contributed to his 2009 release, McAllister was added to the Saints' roster prior to the team's Super Bowl win over the Colts. McAllister's 6,096 rushing yards remains the Saints' career rushing record.
13. Todd Gurley
10th overall pick, 2015 draft
Rams (2015-19); Falcons (2020)
Knee problems may ultimately keep Gurley from going down as an all-time great. A three-time Pro Bowler (and two-time All-Pro) during his first four seasons, Gurley led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in consecutive years while helping the Rams reach the Super Bowl in 2018. Gurley's production has decreased on recent seasons, however, as he is currently a free agent after averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per carry in Atlanta.
14. Jonathan Stewart
13th overall pick, 2008 draft
Panthers (2008-17); Giants (2018)
Stewart put up impressive career numbers despite sharing a backfield for the majority of his career. He gained over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns during his first two seasons in Carolina. In 2014, following teammate DeAngelo Williams' injury, Stewart gained nearly 1,000-purpose yards while receiving a then-career high eight starts. His success that season ultimately led to the team parting with Williams during the 2015 offseason. That season, Stewart earned his first and only Pro Bowl selection while helping the Panthers reach the Super Bowl. Stewart (who was ultimately replaced in Carolina by Christian McCaffrey) spent one season with the Giants before retiring during the 2019 offseason.
15. Ezekiel Elliott
No. 4 overall pick, 2016 draft
A two-time NFL rushing champion, Elliott is on pace to join fellow Cowboys greats Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith in Canton, Ohio. A three-time Pro Bowler, Elliott averaged 1,668 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns per season during his first five years in Dallas.
16. Larry Johnson
27th overall pick, 2003 draft
Chiefs (2003-2009); Bengals (2009); Washington (2010); Miami (2011)
Owner of the greatest single rushing season in Penn State history, Johnson began his career as Priest Holmes' backup in Kansas City. Injuries to Holmes opened the door for Johnson, who rushed for over 3,500 yards and 37 touchdowns during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Injuries and off-field issues led to a significant drop in production after the 2006 season. And following an unceremonious end of his tenure with the Chiefs, Johnson had largely forgettable stops in Cincinnati, Washington and Miami.
17. Joseph Addai
30th overall pick, 2006 draft
Addai posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons during his first two years with the Colts. His 143 total yards helped the Colts defeat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Addai is currently seventh on the Colts' career rushing list.
18. Ryan Mathews
12th overall pick, 2010 draft
Chargers (2010-2014); Eagles (2015-2016)
Injuries are the reason why Mathews was out of football at age 29. When healthy, the former Fresno State star was a Pro Bowl-caliber player. During his only two seasons where he played in at least 14 games, Mathews rushed for over 1,000 yards both times. He made the Pro Bowl in 2011 after rushing for 1,091 yards and catching 50 passes for 455 yards.
19. Melvin Gordon
15th overall pick, 2015 draft
Chargers (2015-2019); Broncos (2020)
The prototype running back for today's NFL, Gordon earned two Pro Bowl nods during his first four seasons in the NFL. And while his touches were somewhat limited during his first season in Denver, Gordon still managed to rush for nearly 1,000 yards while scoring 10 touchdowns for the fourth time in his career.
20. Ronnie Brown
No. 2 overall pick, 2005 draft
Dolphins (2005-10); Eagles (2011); Chargers (2012-14); Texans (2014)
Along with Ricky Williams, Brown has the distinction of being part of the NFL's charter "Wild Cat" offense. While he shared a backfield for most of his time in Miami, Brown still managed to averaged nearly 1,000 rushing yards per season with the Dolphins. He earned Pro Bowl honors in 2008 while helping Miami capture the AFC East title. He is currently third on the Dolphins' career rushing list, behind Williams and Csonka.
21. Darren McFadden
No. 4 overall pick, 2008 draft
Raiders (2008-14); Cowboys (2015-17)
The first of two Arkansas running backs taken in the first round of the 2008 draft (Felix Jones being the other), McFadden was the first former Razorback to register two 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL. While he continuously battled through injury, McFadden still managed to amass 1,664 all-purpose yards for the Raiders in 2010. Five years later, as a member of the Cowboys, McFadden rushed for 1,089 yards despite only starting in 10 games. He spent the 2016 season as Ezekiel Elliott's replacement before retiring during the 2017 season.
No. 8 overall pick, 2017 draft
One of the NFL's most versatile backs, McCaffrey earned All-Pro honors in 2019 after becoming the third player in league history to tally 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. McCaffrey is looking to bounce back after an injury sidelined him for all but three games in 2020
23. Doug Martin
31st overall pick, 2012 draft
Buccaneers (2012-17); Raiders (2018)
While healthy, Martin was a very good player. He gained 1,926 total yards during his rookie season, and he was an All-Pro in 2015 after rushing for over 1,400 yards. But eight significant injuries -- the last one placing him on injured reserve in 2019 -- resulted in Martin playing in his last regular season game at just 29 years old.
24. Cedric Benson
No. 4 overall pick, 2005 draft
Bears (2005-07); Bengals (2008-11); Packers (2012)
While Chicago just wasn't a good fit, Benson still helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006. He enjoyed significantly more success in Cincinnati, where he tallied three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons while helping the Bengals clinch two playoff berths and a division title. A Lisfranc injury in 2012 (his only season with the Packers) limited him to just five games in what would be his final season.
25. C.J. Spiller
No. 9 overall pick, 2010 draft
Bills (2010-14); Saints (2015); Jets/Seahawks (2016); Chiefs (2017)
Spiller's career had an uphill trajectory during his first three seasons. By 2012, he earned Pro Bowl honors after rushing for 1,244 yards and averaging 6 yards per carry. But his production plummeted after breaking his collarbone during the 2014 season. He spent the final two season of his career shuffling between teams before returning to Clemson, where he was recently promoted to running backs coach.
23rd overall pick, 2008 draft
Steelers (2008-12); Cardinals (2013)
The last Steelers running back taken in the first round before Najee Harris, Mendenhall won a Super Bowl as a rookie despite spending most of the season on injured reserve. He returned to put together consecutive 1,000-yard seasons that included a 1,273-yard, 13 touchdown campaign in 2010. While he helped the Steelers advance to the Super Bowl that season, Mendenhall's most infamous NFL moment occurred when Clay Matthews jarred the ball loose from his arms during a pivotal moment in Super Bowl XLV (the Steelers ended up losing, 31-25). Mendenhall finished his career in Arizona before retiring after just six seasons.
27. Knowshon Moreno
12th overall pick, 2009 draft
Broncos (2009-13); Dolphins (2014)
Injuries limited the former Georgia star to just 63 NFL games. A key member of the Broncos' 2013 AFC championship team, Moreno rushed for over 1,000 yards that season after missing half of the 2012 campaign with a torn ACL. Another torn ACL injury in 2014 -- his only season in Miami -- prematurely ended his career.
28. Michael Bennett
27th overall pick, 2001 draft
Vikings (2001-05); Chiefs (2006-07); Buccaneers (2007-08); Chargers (2008-09); Raiders (2010)
A Pro Bowler in 2002, a freak injury (he injured his foot while running on a treadmill) hindered Bennett's productivity for the remainder of his career. While he would never come close to duplicating his success of 2002, Bennett still managed to carve out a 10-year career. He finished his career with nearly 5,000 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns.
29. Felix Jones
22nd overall pick, 2008 draft
Cowboys (2008-12); Steelers (2013)
Jones enjoyed a solid yet unspectacular six-year NFL career. The NFL's leader in yards-per-carry average in 2009, Jones' best season took place in 2010, when he amassed 1,250 all-purpose yards for the Cowboys. Jones shared a backfield for most of his career; he spent three seasons playing alongside Marion Barber and two years with DeMarco Murray.
No. 4 overall pick, 2017 draft
Jaguars (2017-19); Buccaneers (2020-Present)
A throwback power back, Fournette helped lead the Jaguars to the brink of the Super Bowl as a rookie. He has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Buccaneers, as Tampa Bay went 7-0 with Fournette in its starting lineup during the 2020 season. "Playoff Lenny" gained 448 total yards and four touchdowns during the Buccaneers' 2020 playoff run. With a score in the Bucs' Super Bowl LV win, "Lombardi Lenny" was born.
31. Saquon Barkley
No. 2 overall pick, 2018 draft
Barkley quickly became a household name after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. Barkley is looking to reclaim his spot as arguably the NFL's top running back after an injury wiped out most of his 2020 season.
No. 5 overall pick, 2005 draft
Buccaneers (2005-10); Rams (2011)
One of two former Auburn running backs selected in the first round, Williams won Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for nearly 1,200 yards. Injuries, however, along with the eventual emergence of LeGarrette Blount ultimately contributed to Williams never duplicating his rookie success.
33. Kevin Jones
30th overall pick, 2004 draft
Lions (2004-07); Bears (2008)
Jones was only the third Lions rookie for rush for over 1,000 yards after gaining 1,133 yards in 2011. Injuries, however, would limited him to fewer than 700 yards over his remaining three years in Detroit. He had one uneventful season in Chicago before spending another year in the now defunct United Football League.
34. Laurence Maroney
21st overall pick, 2006 draft
Patriots (2006-09); Broncos (2010)
After sharing a backfield with Marion Barber at the University of Minnesota, Maroney shared one with Kevin Faulk in New England. An integral member of the 2007 Patriots team that started 18-0, Maroney rushed for 122 yards in the Patriots' postseason wins over the Jaguars and Chargers. Maroney (following an injury-marred 2008 season) posted another solid season in 2009 before finishing his career with the Broncos.
35. Ron Dayne
11th overall pick, 2000 draft
Giants (2000-04); Broncos (2005); Texans (2006-07)
While he failed to live up to pre-draft expectations, the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner did have several productive seasons that included helping the Giants reach the Super Bowl during his rookie season. Ironically, Dayne's best season was his last; he rushed for 773 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 4 yards per carry for the Texans.
36. Donald Brown
27th overall pick, 2009 draft
Colts (2009-13); Chargers (2014-15)
While he never became a full-time starter, Brown managed to put together a semi-productive seven-year career. In 2011, Brown ran for five scores while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Two years later, Brown set career highs with six rushing touchdowns and 751 all-purpose yards.
37. T.J. Duckett
18th overall pick, 2002 draft
Falcons (2002-05); Washington (2006); Lions (2007); Seahawks (2008)
A powerful running back, the 6-foot, 254-pound Duckett spend his first three NFL seasons as part of a talented Falcons backfield that featured Michael Vick and fellow running back Warrick Dunn. While he was never a full-time starter, Duckett helped the Falcons clinch two playoff berths over that span that included a run to the NFC title game in 2004. After four years in Atlanta, Duckett spent one season a piece in Washington, Detroit and Seattle.
38. Josh Jacobs
24th overall pick, 2019 draft
Jacobs posted the best rookie season by a Raiders running back since Marcus Allen's 1982 campaign. And while his 2020 season was not quite as good, Jacobs nonetheless was named to his first Pro Bowl last year on the strength of his 12 rushing touchdowns.
39. Sony Michel
31st overall pick, 2018 draft
Injuries have considerably limited Michel's impact over the past two seasons. But as a rookie, Michel showed his value by helping the Patriots win their sixth Super Bowl title. After rushing for 931 yards in 13 regular-season games as a rookie, Michel rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns during the 2018 postseason.
40. Beanie Wells
31st overall pick, 2009 draft
After sharing a backfield for two seasons, the former Ohio State Buckeye took advantage of his elevated role in 2011. He ran for a career-high 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns that included a franchise-record 228 yards against the Rams. But an injury limited him to eight games in 2012, and a torn Achilles tendon sustained during the ensuing offseason prematurely ended his career.
41. Trent Richardson
No. 3 overall pick, 2012 draft
Browns (2012-13); Colts (2013-14)
An extremely productive player at Alabama, Richardson's lack of big-play ability hindered his NFL production. While his rookie season wasn't bad (he amassed 1,317 yards and 12 touchdowns), Richardson was nonetheless traded from Cleveland to Indianapolis at the start of the 2013 season. He averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in 29 games with the Colts. Richardson averaged just 3.3 yards per carry during his three-year career.
42. William Green
16th overall pick, 2002 draft
While somewhat underwhelming, Green still managed to rack up 1,000 all-purpose yards while helping the Browns make the playoffs during this rookie season. Ultimately, Green's inconsistency (he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry for his career) and off-field issues led to him being out of the NFL after just four seasons. Green attempted a comeback in 2008 but was never signed to a contract.
43. Jahvid Best
30th overall pick, 2010 draft
Multiple concussions resulted in Best appearing in just 22 NFL games. In his second-to-last game, Best rushed for a career-high 163 yards (on 12 carries) that included an 88-yard touchdown run.
32nd overall pick, 2020 draft
The former LSU Tiger bust out of the gates in rookie debut, rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs' opening-season win over the Texans. And while a hip injury slowed his roll at the end of the season, Edwards-Helaire still managed to gain 1,100 all-purpose yards in 13 regular-season games. He also helped the Chiefs return to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
45. Trung Canidate
31st overall, 2000 draft
Rams (2000-02); Washington (2003)
The fifth running back selected in the first round of the 2000 draft, Canidate spent his first three NFL seasons playing behind future Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. And despite a solid 2003 season in Washington, Canidate was released after the team traded for former Broncos Pro Bowler Clinton Portis. Canidate never played in another NFL game.
46. Chris Perry
26th overall pick, 2004 draft
While injuries ultimately cut his career short, Perry did help the Bengals win their first AFC North title in 2005. That season, Perry caught 51 passes, the most by a Bengals running back since James Brooks in 1986.
47. Rashaad Penny
27th overall pick, 2018 draft
Injuries and the emergence of 2017 seventh-round pick Chris Carson have severely limited Penny's NFL production. Through three seasons, the former San Diego State standout has rushed for just 823 yards on 161 carries for the Seahawks.
48. David Wilson
32nd overall pick, 2012 draft
A severe spinal injury forced Wilson to retire after just 21 games. And while his career was short, Wilson did set a Giants franchise record for total yards gained in a game when he amassed 327 yards in a 2012 win over the Saints.