It used to be commonplace for teams to take running backs in the first round of the draft. Now, in many years, you might be lucky to see more than one go before the second day of the draft. The 2021 NFL Draft in particular is pretty clearly defined as having an upper echelon consisting of three running backs: Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams.
Whether or not all three of them end up being taken in the first round remains to be seen, but they almost certainly figure to be the first three backs who are drafted. And Lance Zierlein believes that the Pittsburgh Steelers could be one of the three teams who land part of the trio, even if it is not their norm.
“We could actually see a running back this year, and that’s not typically the ‘Steeler Way’,” he said on NFL Network, “but when you look at the best football players and the way they typically stack it, guys like Najee Harris from Alabama, guys like Travis Etienne, and maybe even Javonte Williams from North Carolina, they are all fits for what the Steelers like to do, they are all tough in short yardage, they can catch the football, and they’re all extremely high football character-type players.”
The Steelers have formerly been in good hands at the running back position with Le’Veon Bell between 2013 and 2017, during which time he made the Pro Bowl after his rookie season pretty much in every year in which he was healthy. Inconsistency marked the James Conner era, even if he made the Pro Bowl in 2018.
Any of the three top backs would be a fit for what Pittsburgh would like to do at the position. They are all complete backs who can run hard, can catch, and at least display the potential to be a blocking back, but there is one that Zierlein prefers for the Steelers over the others.
“The guy that I’d really love to see them grab is Travis Etienne, because he has more juice than any other running backs in the top three that we talked about, and that’s something the Steelers need,” Zierlein said. “They need chunk plays, and a guy that can create on his own, and that’s something that Travis Etienne does.”
As time moves on, I find myself increasingly agreeing with Zierlein that Etienne would be the preferred pick for the Steelers. I’m also increasingly coming along to the idea of drafting him in the first round, even though I, like most here, I think, generally would prefer to wait until at least the second to take the position. But I think Pittsburgh is in special circumstances right now that make it make more sense.