The 2023 NFL Draft is long over with and now we dive deeper into covering the post-selection analysis of the annual spectacle. On Wednesday, ESPN.com’s Bill Barnwell identified players around the NFL that he deemed were deeply impacted by this year’s draft, and he did so in a winners and losers-type fashion. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris was included on Barnwell’s list of 19 players as a winner. However, his full reasoning for doing so isn’t probably what you would expect.
Barnwell indicated that there were rumors the Steelers might consider using a 2023 draft pick on another running back to push Harris this upcoming season.
Wait, what? Rumor?
At no point and time did anyone who follows the Steelers closely think the team would select a running back in this year’s draft within their first four or five picks. The Steelers seemingly completely ignored the running back position throughout the pre-draft process and outside of him attending the Pittsburgh Pro Day, I’m not even sure the team’s position coach, Eddie Faulkner, even attended any another Pro Day this year. At least that’s what our Pro Day tracker indicates.
Had the Steelers selected a running back at any point in the 2023 NFL Draft, it would have likely been in the sixth or seventh round. Even if that had happened, it would have shocked most of us who follow the team closely. There was no need for the team to spend a draft pick on a running back this year, especially considering that Jaylen Warren seems entrenched as Harris’ backup in 2023 after a strong rookie 2022 season.
Personally, I think Barnwell ought to find a different source for his rumors.
Barnwell eventually got to a somewhat better reason for naming Harris a winner related to the 2023 NFL Draft.
“Khan moved up in the first round to take tackle Broderick Jones, who is expected to immediately step in on Kenny Pickett’s blindside and push overmatched 2022 starter Dan Moore into a rotational role,” Barnwell explained. “With guard Isaac Seumalo joining from the Eagles in free agency, Harris will have a much better chance of delivering on lofty expectations in what could be a make-or-break 2023 campaign.”
Hey, nothing like attempting to wipe while reaching over your shoulder, right? That said, Barnwell still failed to even mention in his reasoning for having Harris on his list that the Steelers selected one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft in Darnell Washington, who was a gift later in the third round. Had Barnwell did nothing but exalt the selections of tackle Broderick Jones and Washington as reasoning for Harris being on his list, I might not even be writing this post.
As for Barnwell adding in his reasoning that 2023 could be a make-or-break campaign for Harris, the team’s 2021 first-round draft pick, I can sort of see that, especially with the Steelers needing to decide nearly one full year from now if they want to pick up the running back’s fully guaranteed fifth-year option for the 2025 season. Adding two young players in this year’s draft in the forms of Jones and Washington should help Harris’ cause.
In closing, should Harris be on Barnwell’s list of winners from the 2023 NFL Draft? I think that’s fine. My opinion aside, Barnwell did an awful job of explaining why Harris should be on the list. At least Barnwell didn’t get his stat portion of his post wrong.
“One back who hasn’t impressed after being drafted in the first round is Harris, who has averaged 3.9 yards per carry over his first two seasons,” Barnwell wrote. “A middling offensive line hasn’t helped, but he has generated minus-129 RYOE over that stretch, suggesting that an average back with the same blocking would have been more productive. Jaylen Warren, Harris’ backup a year ago, posted 31 RYOE across 77 carries.”