The Pittsburgh Steelers tend to go their own way, so to speak, more than most teams do. There are certain ‘conventional wisdoms’ that a lot of teams or general managers seem to subscribe to. Whenever these matters come up, the Steelers make it pretty clear that they don’t limit themselves to such thinking.
One of the popular draft trends in recent years has been the devaluation of the running back, with many coming to believe that investing a first round pick in the position does not return enough value, at least on average, to make it a wise property to take on.
During the team’s day one press conference, someone asked general manager Kevin Colbert about this idea. His pre-draft comments about most Hall of Fame running backs being drafted in the first round were brought up. “Didn’t quite get him a gold jacket yet, but I said that in reference to the popular kind of thinking that running backs are devalued because of the offensive schematics that are going on in our game and at the college level,” he said, after the Steelers took Alabama running back Najee Harris 24th overall.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been around two Hall of Fame runners in Jerome Bettis and Barry Sanders, and I don’t think you can ever devalue greatness at the running back position,” he added. “Is Najee going to be a great player? We hope so. But we selected Najee because we think he’s an NFL player that’s going to help us win.”
Pittsburgh had a number of different directions it could have gone with that pick, including at positions of evident need like center, tackle, cornerback, outside linebacker, or if they really wanted to get crazy, even tight end. But Harris, to them, was one of eight players, Colbert said, that they wouldn’t even consider trading away from.
“We don’t subscribe to the theory that you mentioned, as Kevin so obviously stated,” head coach Mike Tomlin reiterated about the first-round value of running backs. “He was a player that we really valued. We were ecstatic that he was there, and we took him and we took him pretty quickly with little to no dialogue. We’re extremely happy with where we are this evening.”
Ultimately, it’s up to Harris to prove whether or not he was worth the investment, and if he can transcend the average value of his position. When you draft a player in the first round, you hope to get at least a decade of quality starting play from them. It’s rare that a running back lasts that long, and it remains questionable whether or not it’s wise to risk an expensive second contract on the position.