We can debate about the value of taking a running back in the first round, an almost third rail when it comes to the NFL Draft. Talk about if RB Najee Harris was really the best player on the board. Opine if the team should’ve explored trading down and acquired a mid-round pick. We can do all that until we’re blue in the face.
What we can’t debate?
Najee Harris is the perfect fit in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.
Few coaches want and need three-down backs like Mike Tomlin. He’s old-school. He’s a holdout. “Committee” isn’t in Tomlin’s vocabulary. He wants to have a guy. And Harris is that guy.
He can do it all. Run. Catch. Block. He’s going to improve this team’s horrendous short-yardage woes. Yes, Harris benefitted from running behind the best offensive line in football. But he also made plays like this.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) April 30, 2021
Good luck giving the o-line credit for all that YAC.
The best thing the Steelers’ offense can do in 2021? 2nd and 6. Doesn’t seem like much, I know. But they were behind the chains so often last year that it was impossible to get the offense into a rhythm. They were in 2nd and 8+ on 178 plays in 2020, ninth-most of any team. They gained just 4.8 yards on those plays. Only the Denver Broncos were worse. Harris is a tough runner capable of creating, falling forward, and churning out the tough extra yard or two.
Harris is an accomplished receiver, too. He’s not going to be limited by anything in Matt Canada’s playbook, even if we don’t quite know what that looks like yet. He can split out, run a receiver route tree, and make tough, combative catches. As a blocker, he has the size and want-to to be effective, even if like almost all rookie backs, he’s far from a finished product.
If Pittsburgh didn’t take Harris or a top RB in Round 1, they were going to struggle to find that featured back the rest of the draft. Maybe someone like Ohio State’s Trey Sermon — maybe — but that’s putting all your eggs in one basket that you get him. And Sermon has his fair share of concerns, too.
Let’s play the value game. Here’s the Steelers’ calculation. They’ll have an easier time finding quality offensive linemen at tackle or interior, both strong classes, then they would a running back. Taking Harris doesn’t mean the front office is content with its offensive line. It’s doubtful they are. But they have Rounds 2 and 3 to address that. For Pittsburgh it wasn’t either/or. It was just a question of what was coming first. Running back or O-line. Harris fell, he was their guy, and he was the pick.
The one thing Harris will have to get used to, and Kevin Colbert touched on this in his presser, is the Pittsburgh weather. He grew up in California and played his college ball at Alabama. It’s doubtful the dude even owns a heavy coat. But he’ll adjust quickly and the Steelers hope he’ll be their snow plow come November and December for seasons to come.