The 2021 NFL Draft will get underway a week from Thursday. As things stand right now, former Alabama running back Najee Harris appears to be the odds-on favorite to be the first-round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers. While several fans and analysts, and that includes me, aren’t high on teams spending a first-round draft pick on a running back because of the position fungibility factor and expected shelf life when it comes along with playing that particular position, NFL Network draft analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger believes that Harris might be an exception to the rule.
Baldinger was asked Tuesday during his interview on 93.7 The Fan if Harris should be considered as a first round draft pick this year despite playing the running back position.
“Yeah, I do,” Baldinger said. “Look, I mean I think that you’re going to have to spend a first round pick to get him. I mean, I think he’s just that good. He’s caught 70 passes the last two years. I made the comparison and I’ve never made this comparison before in the last eight years, but I made the comparison that he reminds me of Le’Veon Bell when he came out of Michigan State. I mean, Le’Veon got leaner, lost weight after his first year, but he was a great receiver, great route runner, obviously ran the ball really well for five or six years in Pittsburgh. And I think Najee is very similar to that.”
Baldinger was then asked if he sees any Eddie Lacy, another former Alabama running back who was a second round draft pick, in Harris.
“Yeah, but Eddie Lacy got fat,” Baldinger said. “You know, he ate too many chips. Let’s face it. I don’t see Najee Harris being that guy and he catches the ball way better than Eddie Lacy ever caught it.”
Baldinger was eventually asked if there are any other running backs that fit what the Steelers need after the first round, should they ultimately not select Harris in the first round.
“Well, I mean, look, one of my favorite players that’s in the whole draft is going to be there at the top of the second round, Javonte Williams out of North Carolina,” Baldinger said. “I mean, it’s just, there’s nothing really not to like about him. Michael Carter is an undersized guy that probably is going to be there in the third round that Pittsburgh might be able to get, out of North Carolina. I mean, there’s nothing not to like about Michael Carter. Just go put in that Miami game this year and just watch him torch the Hurricanes. He’s a really good football player. He was a four-year player at North Carolina. He’s 200 pounds and reminds me a lot of Charlie Garner when he was in Philly and San Francisco and Oakland. I mean, he reminds me a lot of what Charlie did.”
While Baldinger seems to be high on Harris and especially when it comes to him potentially being the Steelers’ first round selection this year, if pressed to decide between he and Alabama center Landon Dickerson, the former NFL offensive lineman chose the latter of the two.
“I think this guy is going to make everybody else around him better,” Baldinger said of Dickerson. “I mean, that’s exactly what Quenton Nelson did in Indianapolis. I think he’ll start the fights in practice and finish the fights. I think when you were coming out of the tunnel in Baltimore and you’re going up against the Ravens or you’re going up against Cleveland right now, and you need somebody to lead the charge, I mean, Landon Dickerson’s taking you out of the tunnel now. Now, you’ve got a lot of guys in Pittsburgh, Cam Heyward, T.J. [Watt], I mean, you’ve got a lot of guys who will do it, but he’s a young guy that that’s willing to lead the cavalry out of that tunnel and into enemy territory. I’m the one those guys who will pound on the table for that guy all day long.”
That’s quite interesting that even Baldinger would take a heavily-medically-flagged player in Dickerson over a top-tier running back in Harris if push came to shove and he was forced to decide between the two for the Steelers’ first round selection.
As of Monday, Harris and Dickerson are believed to be two of three players that the Steelers have settled on to be their first-round selection a week from Thursday. The third player is Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins. Baldinger did talk briefly about Jenkins during his Tuesday iniyerview.
“Teven Jenkins was the right tackle at Oklahoma State. He’s more of a mauler than any guy that can really finesse,” Baldinger said. “I mean, if he was lining up against T.J. Watt for a whole game, I think he might need a little help. But you know, he’s a tough guy that played a lot of football. I mean, he’s probably going to go at the bottom of the first round.”
Back to Harris, the original subject in this post, Baldinger recently did a short video breakdown of the Alabama running back on Twitter, and you can see it below along with the full interview from Tuesday.