Positional value continues to become a more and more significant component of the draft discussion, and the discussions also change as the game does. Where the current state of the game is today, there are many who believe that teams should avoid drafting a running back in the first round — some say in all cases, others say in most.
The Pittsburgh Steelers chose not to listen to those narratives, as they used their 24th overall pick in last week’s draft on Alabama running back Najee Harris. Hee is one of NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks’ favorite overall selections over the course of the draft, as he writes for the outlet:
The Steelers’ offense hasn’t been the same since Le’Veon Bell’s departure. However, that should change with Harris’ arrival. The Alabama standout is a mix of Matt Forte and Bell, with a game that could enable him to thrive as an RB1/WR2 in Pittsburgh. Harris’ combination of power running skills and soft hands makes him a rare find at the position as an ultra-versatile playmaker from the backfield. He should immediately alleviate some of the pressure on Ben Roethlisberger to carry the offense as a reliable runner between the tackles with pass-catching skills to turn screens, check downs and quick routes into big plays on the perimeter.
Harris bears quite a lot of similarities to Bell. He has the potential for a bit more burst as well, which was his most significant shortcoming, especially as his career wore on. Presumably, he’s not going to be a training camp holdout, either, though you never know.
Needless to say, the Steelers envision the Alabama product being their featured back, both now and in the future. It’s hard to predict what will happen with a running back moving into a second contract, though. They tried to retain Bell, for multiple years, but it didn’t work out. The Tennessee Titans kept Derrick Henry, and then he ran for over 2,000 yards.
One thing is clear, regardless of value. Harris represents a major upgrade to the running back position for the Steelers. While that must also coincide with improvements in both personnel and scheme for the run blocking along the offensive line, a more suitable runner was necessary as well, and was the most glaring weakness of last year’s team.