Actions speak louder than words, and on Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Steelers cashed a check team president Art Rooney II wrote at the start of the offseason. Determined to never again see his team finish dead last in the NFL in rushing, Rooney expressed the desire to revamp the Steelers' once revered rushing attack. With the 24th overall pick, the Steelers made their first significant step toward making their running game exceptional again with the selection of former Alabama running back Najee Harris.
The first running back selected by the Steelers in the first round since 2008, Harris shares the same last name as the franchise's all-time leading rusher: Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. Similar to himself, Franco Harris feels that the Steelers' new Harris has the ability to make game-changing plays that can add a new wrinkle to Pittsburgh's offense.
"Tough runner," Harris told CBS Sports earlier this week. "Good runner, and he can catch the ball. ... Some running backs just want to run straight ahead and just run into people. But you have to be able to slide and have people miss. On short yardage, boom, you go for it, you take all the hits you need to take to get those yards."
The latest of prolific 'Bama backs
While he didn't win a Heisman Trophy, Harris out-performed several former Alabama running backs who did win college football's greatest individual honor. Harris left Alabama as the school's all-time leader in total touchdowns (57), rushing touchdowns (46, surpassing Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry last season), and rushing yards with 3,843. The 2020 Doak Walker Award winner, Harris' 6 yards per carry average at Alabama is the third-best average in school history for players with at least 400 carries. Last season, Harris led all of college football with 30 total touchdowns and 26 rushing touchdowns.
Harris was also a finalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, which recognizes a college football player who has "demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field."
More versatile than you think
Despite playing on a team with first-round picks Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, Harris was still an integral part of Alabama's passing game. He caught at least four passes five different times last season. He earned game MVP honors after catching three touchdown passes in Alabama's win over Florida in the SEC Championship Game. Against Ohio State in the College Football Championship, Harris caught seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for two scores.
Training with the best
Harris recently spent time training with Adrian Peterson, the fifth-leading rusher in league history. Like Peterson has been for the bulk of his career, Harris is hoping to show that he can be a durable player at the next level after having over 700 touches in college. It's safe to say that Peterson likely gave Harris some tips on how to condition his body for the rigors of an NFL season.
"I'm not a little running back; I'm 6-foot-2, 230 [pounds]," Harris said earlier this month. "I can carry the load. I have no issue with that. ... I train and go about my business so that I can carry the load."
Harris is a nifty runner who displayed impressive cutback ability at Alabama. He also displayed good patience and vision, particularly on the outside. Harris has a lethal spin move and has the athleticism to leap over defenders in the open field. A powerful runner, Harris was hard to take down in the open field. And despite his punishing style, Harris seldom exposed himself to big hits during his time at Alabama.
Like most college running backs, Harris will have to show that he can still be durable at the next level. He will also have to show that he can be an effective runner out of more traditional pro formations.