The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers would draft running back Najee Harris in the first round if he is available.
Explanation: Although it has become something of an annual tradition, the Steelers have once again spent this offseason talking about how the running game needs to be improved. They have made changes at offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, and personnel changes in the backfield will likely follow, with James Conner due to depart in free agency.
The Steelers are not going to re-sign Conner, so it’s obvious that they are going to add somebody along the way. Given their salary cap situation, they would only be able to make a modest addition in free agency, likely somebody who would, at best, compete for the starting role, rather than being the clear, outright favorite over Benny Snell.
While running backs often have a comparatively short shelf life, and it’s a very big gamble to give them a second contract, especially at a premium, a first-round investment is not necessarily a bad idea if you get a premium talent like Najee Harris. You do get him for five years, and can extend the rental with the franchise tag if need be. Five or six years of quality play from a first-round pick isn’t that shabby, especially with running backs more likely to contribute right away.
The Steelers haven’t drafted a running back in the first round since Rashard Mendenhall in 2008, so it’s been a while. And they know they have bigger needs that can be better addressed in the first round. They also know a good running game starts with a good offensive line.
It’s become rote to say it, but running backs are fungible. Of course some are better than others, but if you put a good offensive line in front of one with a good scheme that they’re comfortable playing in, and you’re probably going to find success. The second round is on the table, but if they draft Harris, it’s because all of their other desired options are off the table, at which point they could even consider trading back.