The game has evolved since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a running back in the first round last, before taking Najee Harris in 2021. It was in 2008 that they selected Rashard Mendenhall, who frankly never had the offensive line to run behind to fully make use of his talents.
Harris’ offensive line was no better, but he still managed to make the most of it, rushing for 1,200 yards and adding 467 receiving yards on top of that, with 10 total scores. He didn’t make the Pro Bowl or anything like that, but expectations are high for him moving forward. And he’s ready for that role—specifically the role of the running back in Pittsburgh.
Appearing on CBS Sports yesterday, host Hakem Dermish asked the rookie back if he felt as though he was born to be a Steeler. “I honestly think I am, to be honest with you” he said. “I couldn’t be any more happy with the fit I’m at and where I got selected. I think it all happened for a reason. I watched the Steelers a lot”.
“This organization, the running back position is always a big deal. When I came there, they made that known. The fan support, and everybody talking about the tradition there”, he added. “I think for sure that I fit that. I’m really excited, because I’m a competitor, and I feel like that’s just a challenge to put that crown on you. No matter how heavy it is, I’m always willing to wear it”.
While the legacy of Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis and Le’Veon Bell is a factor specific to Pittsburgh, being drafted at the position in the first round today adds another layer of expectations as analytics-minded commentators dispute the value of the position with so premium a draft resource.
Could any other running back who came out of college in 2021 have done as much as Harris was able to do this past season playing behind the Steelers’ offensive line, however? That is a legitimate question…as is the question of how big of a gap there is in that difference.
Regardless of such questions, Harris is in Pittsburgh and coming off of an encouraging rookie season in which he set a franchise record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie. If the Steelers can upgrade the offensive line over the next few months, there will be even more reason for optimism about his ability to live up to the legacy of the running back position in the Steel City.