The 2021 NFL Draft is now quite literally — that is to say, figuratively — just around the corner, with this year’s rendition in Cleveland set to kick off tomorrow. By the end of the day, barring something unforeseen, there will be one new member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There is a growing consensus among a small number of players about who it will be.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler is not out to buck any trends. He selected Alabama running back Najee Harris when it was his turn to pick for the Steelers during a site-wide beat writer mock draft that they conducted yesterday. Harris has long been one of the favorites tied to Pittsburgh at number 24.
“Linebackers were tempting but Pittsburgh has to fix a shoddy running game and the league consensus is Harris is special,” he wrote for the selection. “With four of the top tackles and the top guard off the board, the Steelers take the most complete running back in the field, ready for contact on Day 1. Expect the Steelers to grab a running back somewhere in the first three rounds regardless. They’ve done a lot of work on the position — Harris included — in recent weeks.”
My Steelers pick for the ESPN NFL Nation Mock Draft…Najee Harris, RB, Alabama pic.twitter.com/cyGtcqWvcl
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) April 28, 2021
The prolific ball carrier for the Crimson Tide has been consistently classified as among the top three at the position throughout the draft process, along with Travis Etienne and Javonte Williams. All three have a chance of going in the first round — though it’s also conceivable that none of them do.
The last time the Steelers used a first-round pick on a running back was in 2008, when they did so for Rashard Mendenhall, who had a career as mercurial as his personality. He had one standout season in particular in 2010, helping Pittsburgh reach the Super Bowl.
The second-round selection of Le’Veon Bell in 2013 produced its own set of successes and struggles. He was a first-team All-Pro multiple times, but also dealt with multiple suspensions and injuries. Ultimately, Bell no-showed during the 2018 season rather than play under a second franchise tag. He proceeded to badmouth his former team and select teammates after signing elsewhere the following offseason.
It has increasingly become the conventional wisdom that the running back position is not a good place in which to invest a first-round pick, yet we still typically see one or two selected every year. This draft should be no exception.
If Harris is available at 24, it seems there is as good a chance as not the Steelers draft him. While the value of the position can be debated, he is perhaps one of the cleanest prospects of all skill positions in this draft class. Harris should have no trouble being a plug-and-play starter for this offense over the next five years.