Being a first-round draft pick comes with heightened expectations, often not just on the field but off the field as well. When an organization brings a high-pedigreed player into the fold, it’s anticipated that he is going to be a foundational piece for the long haul, one of the core members, and perhaps a leader.
That’s not where Najee Harris’ head is at, for the moment. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ first-round draft pick is not focused on the future beyond learning what he’s supposed to do in the offense and who he’s going to be doing that with. But he’s laying the groundwork for more, whether he realizes it or not.
“I would never try to blend in, nowhere. I try to stand out in my own way, because I’m me. I feel like I always stand out”, he told reporters earlier today, via a Zoom call with the media earlier today after rookie minicamp practice. “But just [in terms of] becoming a leader, that’s something that I feel like just comes in time. I barely know the offense. I haven’t even met the veterans”.
Yet listening to him talk, it’s also easy to sense that he has an innate leadership drive that will take root in Pittsburgh over time, not just in the locker room but in the community. His first day in Pittsburgh included collecting business cards of local charity workers he hopes to get involved with in the future.
As the head of a nine-person draft class, he’s also not trying to be ‘the guy’. He is a rookie in the same boat as everybody else. But it sounds as though his natural instincts drive him toward a leadership role, listening to him talk.
“Trying to move at a fast pace—it’s all about taking things step by step by step, and when it comes to that point to become a leader, then it is, but as of now, that’s not something I’m really thinking about”, Harris said. “It’s just really learning the offense and learning my teammates, learning what type of person they are and really bonding with them, so I become someone they trust, actually try to find ways to help them out if I can, and from there, what happens happens”.
In truth, the offense in particular could stand to gain some leadership, as there aren’t many veterans left outside of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Former center Maurkice Pouncey was a co-captain of this unit, but he retired earlier this offseason. Alejandro Villanueva and Vance McDonald are also gone. David DeCastro remains, but he is not necessarily the vocal, rah-rah type.
Of course, building leadership is an organic process. You can’t force leadership on somebody, or expect others to be led. Leadership is a relationship forged over time, both between individual to individual and within a group. The Steelers’ new running back, though, seems destined for that path.