The Pittsburgh Steelers had not used a first-round draft pick on an offensive player prior to this year since doing so to select guard David DeCastro in 2012. The last offensive skill position player that they drafted in the first round prior to that was running back Rashard Mendenhall in 2008, preceded by wide receiver Santonio Holmes in 2006 and tight end Heath Miller in 2005.
You would have to go back to 2004, however, to find the last time the Steelers boasted an Offensive Rookie of the Year, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won the honor. It’s hard for linemen to win that award. One can argue they haven’t had many great shots at it since then.
But they do this year with running back Najee Harris, their latest first-round pick, who will be a day one starter and expected to stay on the field for nearly the entire game. The Steelers are already emphasizing the versatility of his skill set with his ability to catch the ball. Two experts for ESPN see him as the favorite to win the award already: Mike Clay and Field Yates. They explained why in an Insider column:
Clay: Najee Harris, RB, Steelers. I have significant concerns about the Steelers’ offensive line, but Harris is a strong bet for immediate workhorse duties. He has the size to handle a majority of the carries and goal-line work, as well as the receiving chops to catch 50-plus balls. Even if his line struggles to find him lanes, Harris could push for 300 touches, which would vault him to OROY consideration.
Yates: Najee Harris, RB, Steelers. No position has had a more consistent track record of instant acclimation than running back; it’s also a spot conducive to impressive stats. Harris — the first running back off the board — has a clear path to instant touches for the Steelers as well. Combine all of that with the fact that he was the best running back in the draft and you’ve got a serious on-paper case for being the OROY front-runner.
A top running back going to a team where he is clearly going to be a bell cow is always a good bet, but so is any quarterback who is going to start. It is interesting, though, that of the six experts, only two chose a quarterback. One Trevor Lawrence, the other Justin Fields. Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase also got one vote, as did Jaylen Waddle of the same position.
Harris was just one of four offensive draft picks for the Steelers to begin their slate of selections. Tight end Pat Freiermuth followed in the second round, then a pair of linemen in the next two rounds in Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. All of them have a shot at playing a sizable role this season.