There are a few positions at which some organizations simply have a rich history. The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly have their fair share. They have multiple wide receivers in the Hall of Fame, for example. They have multiple centers, as well. And cornerbacks. And safeties. Linebackers. Defensive linemen.
And running backs. Boy, do the Steelers and their fans love their running backs. Once a select group gets over the fact that they used a first round pick on him, Najee Harris is going to be one of the most popular people in Pittsburgh for the next while. It doesn’t hurt that he knows his history, rattling off the names during his introductory conference call on Thursday night.
“Franco Harris, they had Jerome [Bettis], obviously Le’Veon [Bell], had James [Conner] recently. But I mean, yeah, one thing about the Steelers is recent history has always evolved around the run game,” he said. Of course, one can argue that they have gotten away from that a little too much recently.
The Steelers finished the 2020 season ranked dead last in rushing. Not just in total yardage, but also in yards per attempt. They not only lacked explosive plays, but had a high percentage of negative runs on top of that. That was down to both the runners and the blocking.
They’ve made substantial changes since then. Pittsburgh moved on from Conner, signed a back in free agency, added a couple of linemen as options in free agency as well, but most importantly leading into the draft, made coaching and philosophical changes.
Their first four draft picks all addressed the running game, including the addition of two linemen, as well as a blocking tight end. Harris in the first round, of course, was the centerpiece of their plans. The dots were there to connect, even for him, all offseason.
“I always thought it would be a perfect fit to be there, but like I say, with a running back everything bounces around, what’s going to happen,” he said. “I know a little bit about it because I am a football junkie, but I’m always open to learn more.”
Hopefully Harris can come in and teach the Steelers a thing or two about what a successful running game looks like. Chances are, at the start, he’s going to have to work to create some of his own yardage. The offensive line and its new pieces must work into a state of cohesiveness.
There are a lot of new(ish) faces in the mix up front this year, including Kevin Dotson, last year’s fourth round pick, who is expected to start at left guard. Rookie Kendrick Green will compete at center, and even fourth-round tackle Dan Moore will have a shot to start. But whoever’s out there must create the holes for Harris this year, and help him earn his lineage as the next great running back in Steelers history, which he already knows a little something about.