Which running back will be selected first in the 2021 NFL Draft and will the Pittsburgh Steelers wind up selecting one early? We certainly have quite a wait until we find out the answers to those two questions. In the meantime, however, Daniel Jeremiah, draft analyst for the NFL Network, held his annual March conference call with the media on Tuesday and he chimed in with his thoughts on both of those topics.
Jeremiah was asked during his call if he believes that Alabama running back Najee Harris will still be on the board at 24 overall in the first round for the Steelers to select if they want him and if not, if he thinks there is a particular offensive lineman that he could see them picking in that spot instead. Jeremiah’s answer was quite interesting and included him going far away from Harris.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t just be limited to Harris,” Jeremiah said. “I’m getting ready to update my list. The next time I update it I am probably going to have Javonte Williams from North Carolina over Harris. He is a really good player. To me he would be a great, great fit with Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t have any problems. I know people kind of look at the running back thing one way or the other. When you’re picking down there in the bottom of the first round and you’ve got a chance to get an impact player like Javonte Williams from North Carolina, to me, I think that would be a heck of a pick.”
Jeremiah went on to give a current running back in the AFC North as his comp for Javonte Williams.
“He’s just like Nick Chubb, and when you watch him you see it,” Jeremiah said of Williams. “When you talk to the coaches at North Carolina that have been — they have some coaches there that have come from Georgia, and they say that the similarities are eerie, just they’re all business, physical, great leaders, can catch the ball out of the backfield, can do a lot of different things. I wouldn’t just limit it to him.”
Later in the call, Jeremiah was again asked about Williams and specifically, why the North Carolina product seems to be a late riser of sorts in the pre-draft process.
“On Javonte, I loved him from the first tape that I popped on,” Jeremiah said of Williams. “I didn’t hear much about him during the fall. They ran the heck out of him. Him and Michael Carter, their other running back at North Carolina that is another really good player, who’s probably going to go in the third round. They had a great backfield.
“But the reason why I think you’re starting to see — continue the buzz to build on him, because to me he’s a complete back. When you look at the combination of [Travis] Etienne, who’s maybe a little bit undersized but has big time juice, big time speed, then you have Najee Harris who’s 230 pounds. He has balance and can bang inside but can also get involved in the pass game.”
Jeremiah continued with more of his thoughts on Williams.
“This kid kind of gives you a little bit of everything,” Jeremiah said. “He’s 220 pounds but he has big time burst and he’s got really good vision, and to me while you’re starting to see him pop up more, he’s my 32nd player as I mentioned, he’s going to continue to go up because everything I keep digging on and finding out from the school and finding out from guys that have been around him and coached him and played with him is the kid’s wiring is off the charts. In a year where we don’t maybe have as much information, when you get a kid who’s got great tape, who’s got high, weight, speed and now the character and the work ethic is off the charts, you bet on those kids.’
That’s certainly quite a bit of thoroughness from Jeremiah so I guess we can expect his next draft positional rankings to have Williams ranked ahead of Harris, who most of us have already seen linked to the Steelers in mock drafts quite a bit so far this offseason.
In case you did not know already, Williams, who will turn 21 in April, declared for the 2021 NFL Draft back in late December. For his college career, he rushed for 2,297 yards and 29 touchdowns in addition to catching 50 passes for another 539 yards and four touchdowns. 25 of his runs resulted in gains of 20 yards or longer and 84 of them resulted in gains of 10 yards or longer.
The 2021 North Carolina pro day is scheduled to take place on Monday, March 29 and so it will be interesting to see if either Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert or head coach Mike Tomlin, or both, are in attendance for it. The last time the Steelers selected a running back in the first round of a draft was in 2008 when they picked Rashard Mendenhall 23rd overall. Mendenhall was also an underclassman that year and just 20 years of age.
We have already profiled Williams on the site, and you can read that report from Josh Carney by following the link below. I will have a full explosive run contextualization completed for Williams soon as well so look for that on the site in the next few days.