The Pittsburgh Steelers really seem to have hit on their first four picks from the 2021 NFL Draft in running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Friermuth, center Kendrick Green and tackle Dan Moore Jr., at least from Pro Football Focus’s perspective.
So far, all four have shown just how good they can be with the Steelers, none more than a guy like Moore Jr., who has been one of the top rookie linemen in pass protection this summer, which is a welcomed surprise.
However, Harris has stood out in a good way in his own right, grading as the ninth-highest rookie first rounder this preseason, according to Pro Football Focus’s Mike Renner, who broke down the first-round rookies for PFF Friday.
Harris, who won’t play in Friday night’s preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers, has a grade of 70.7 overall on 45 offensive snaps with the Steelers. Harris has a 69.5 receiving grade, a 64.5 pass blocking grade, and a 69.4 run grade, equaling out to his 70.7 overall grade from PFF. That number puts him as the ninth-highest graded first-round rookie by PFF, finishing behind New York’s Zach Wilson, Buffalo’s Gregory Rousseau, Denver’s Patrick Surtain, Dallas’s Micah Parsons, Los Angeles Chargers’ Rashawn Slater, New England’s Mac Jones, Indianapolis’s Kwity Paye, and Tampa Bay’s Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.
“Harris hasn’t had much room to work on the ground so far, with a grand total of nine yards before contact on 13 preseason carries,” Renner writes. “That’s something he’s just going to have to get used to behind Pittsburgh’s patchwork offensive line. He’s showed out as a receiver, though, with 65 yards on four catches so far.”
Though the sledding has been tough in the run game, three of Harris’ six forced missed tackles I’ve tracked this preseason have come on the ground as the Alabama product has shown the ability to create something out of nothing, which is a large reason why he was drafted by the Steelers, who had the league’s worst rushing attack in the NFL in 2020.
It’s still very early with Harris, but I feel strongly that he’s going to be a great player in the black and gold, and will become one of the top running backs in the NFL before too long, which is exactly why the Steelers drafted him.
The numbers overall haven’t been great in the preseason, but we’ll see him get better and better on the ground with the more work he gets and more time from the offensive line to gel and become a true unit up front.
The signs are encouraging though, no doubt.