The Pittsburgh Steelers did not invest in a defensive player until the latter stages of the fourth round, with their fifth draft pick. Those on defense understand why. They’ve been rightfully getting the attention in recent years, but it was time to reinvest in the offense, both to contribute to the now and to build for the future.
That is actually why they used a first-round pick on running back Najee Harris, as a player who can help them significantly and immediately, but who will also persistently be a valuable contributor down the road for as long as he’s here. And he already has the defenders’ attention in practice.
“I love Najee, as a man and as a player. He’s a great dude, has a great story”, Minkah Fitzpatrick said of his former Alabama teammate on Safety Blitz with Rodney Harrison. “But as a player, he’s a competitor. I love playing him. He’s fast, he’s challenging us out of the backfield, catching passes, going against the linebackers. He has that ‘you’re not gonna outwork me’-type mindset. That’s something that we love having in the city of Pittsburgh”.
The argument over whether or not the Steelers should have drafted him in the first round was water under the bridge as soon as it happened, for the simple fact that it’s irreversible, and also that none of us have any sway in potentially changing a future decision.
But he’s here now, and there are lofty ambitions for what he will do in Pittsburgh. Whatever he does to the Steelers’ defense in practice, he better be doing to opponents’ defenses, and then some, come Sundays this fall.
The team finished last in rushing last season, and really, they weren’t far from that by any metric you want to use to measure it out. They simply need things to be much different. It starts with changing who’s carrying the ball, with James Conner now gone.
But it’s not all on Harris’ shoulders. There’s a new offensive coordinator, and thus new play-caller, in Matt Canada, whose job it is to put him in the best position to succeed. There’s a new offensive line coach in Adrian Klemm who is tasked with tuning his group to being a run-blocking unit like they haven’t been in recent years.
The biggest variable is the offensive line itself, which will be breaking in three new starters, with Maurkice Pouncey, Alejandro Villanueva, and Matt Feiler all gone. Their presumed replacements are Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, and Kendrick Green, with Zach Banner returning to right tackle.