Call him a little biased, but RB Najee Harris doesn’t subscribe to the “running backs don’t matter” method. And neither do the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s why the team made him the 24th overall pick Thursday night.
“I honestly don’t think that running backs should be devalued,” Harris said in a presser with local media. “I never did believe in that at all. I guess that’s just what the media is saying. I’m glad that [the Steelers] think the same way as me now, too. Obviously the running game last year was something that wasn’t so good last year. As a team and now that I’m here, we’re going to work on that to find ways to be better. Just glad that I’m here and I’m a Steeler.”
The Steelers had the league’s worst running game in 2020 and put up historically low numbers, their worst since the 1960s. They moved on from James Conner, and failed to sign a running back in free agency (sans Kalen Ballage to a one-year deal), choosing the draft as their route to address the position. They did with Harris, widely considered the best back in the draft.
Harris was one of the most productive backs in college football over the past two seasons. In 2019 and 2020, he rushed for 2,690 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns while racking up 80 receptions. Those catches make him a complete player, not just a runner, giving him extra value that should overcome the concerns about positional value.
Pittsburgh’s willingness to draft a running back in the first round is no surprise. At his pre-draft press conference, Kevin Colbert was open to the idea. He and Mike Tomlin are old-school, growing up in an era where RBs where every-down guys worth their weight in gold. They aren’t huge into analytics that tell them it’s a bad idea to take a running back early. And so Harris was their guy.
Pittsburgh will look to address the offensive line with one, and maybe two, players in Rounds 2 and 3. Center and offensive tackle are the positions they’ll look to upgrade.