The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft is now over, and so is the speculation about how the Pittsburgh Steelers would use their first round selection. Pittsburgh took Alabama running back Najee Harris 24th overall, marking the first time since 2008 that the team has used a first round pick on the position.
Harris was widely, though not universally, regarded as the top back in this draft class. Everything sold the Steelers on both the player and the man. In their post-first round press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert pointed to some things off the field that really impressed them about their new bell cow.
Pittsburgh has had a recent trend of preferring underclassmen with their top selections, but Harris bucks that trend, having actually turned 23 already in March. But he would have come out as a 22-year-old a year ago and still been a first round pick had he not made the conscious decision of returning to Alabama for his senior year because he wanted to win a title — which, of course, they did.
“Najee did a really cool kind of thing, because he was flying back to the Pro Day that he was not going to participate in because he was still coming off of an ankle injury that he had worked his way through during the season,” Colbert said.
“His flight got delayed in Dallas, and he decided to drive and be available and just watch his teammates at their Pro Day, and that really struck a chord with Coach and I,” he continued. He added that they didn’t have the opportunity to interact with him there due to COVID-19 protocols, he called Harris’ interactions with his teammates there “truly special.”
From everything that we seem to know about Harris, it really sounds like he’s going to fit into Pittsburgh like a glove. He has a clear love and passion for the game, a dedication to team and to teammates, and a value for the collective over the individual, at least to some degree. Setting aside the opportunity to enter the league a year early is not a decision many top players would make. Which is another thing that they liked.
“Najee decided to stay in school, and go back for his senior year, which is going against the trend,” Colbert stated. “He did that, and he won a national championship… Obviously, that was done because he had ability, but he also made the decision that he was going back to win a championship.”
I’m not sure that there is any one thing the Steelers could have done more this offseason to improve their team than to improve their running game, and adding a potentially elite runner, complete player, and high-character — both personal and football — individual like Harris is really a hard decision to find fault with.