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How Harris, Etienne, or Williams could impact the Steelers offense

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

With James Conner unlikely to return to Pittsburgh, the Steelers are in the market for a running back. While the selection of a running back in the first or second round would be controversial, there's no doubt that any of the top three backs in this year's draft -- Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams -- have the talent to provide an instant jolt to any offense.

So what might they look like in black and gold?

Najee Harris

School: Alabama

Height: 6-2

Weight: 230

Comp: Stephen Jackson

Steelers comp: Le'Veon Bell

At 230 pounds, Harris is the heaviest of these three running backs. And he plays like it. Harris is a bruising runner that finishes through defenders. He has great balance upon contact and possesses outstanding instincts. Check out the patience and vision on this carry. Remind you of anyone? He looks eerily similar to Le'Veon Bell here.

Harris is also a natural pass-catcher which will allow him to be a three down back from Day 1. In Matt Canada's offense, he'd thrive as a dual threat with the ability to run between the tackles and serve as a legitimate receiver.

Concerns about Harris center around whether his game speed will excel at the next level, but he at least has a high floor as a solid NFL back.

Travis Etienne

School: Clemson

Height: 5-10

Weight: 205

Comp: Alvin Kamara

Steelers comp: Willie Parker

Etienne is a home run hitter. He has elite burst and breakaway speed, hence the Willie Parker comp, and also has remarkable twitch and body control, hence the Alvin Kamara comp. Etienne is seen by many as the top running back in this year's draft after returning to Clemson for his senior season and adding strength.

Given Matt Canada's tendency to utilize shifts, motion, and misdirection in his scheme, Etienne would likely thrive in the Steelers' offense. He runs outside the tackles well as anyone in this draft class.

Look at the contact balance on this play. This is special.

Etienne has made a name for himself as a College Football Playoff regular and has the chance to be an impact runner in the NFL. Simply put, he has a knack for making plays. Etienne holds the NCAA record for most games with at least one touchdown and is able to catch passes. Concerns about Etienne are that he isn't overly physical and has a long way to go in pass protection, but like Harris he has a high floor.

Javonte Williams

School: North Carolina

Height: 5-10

Weight: 220

Comp: Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Steelers comp: Benny Snell

Williams may not be as much of a household name as Harris or Etienne, but he's closer than you might think as far as ability is concerned. Think of Williams as a physical one-cut runner with sneaky speed and good instincts. Williams won't necessarily run by you, but that doesn't mean he won't make you miss.

As a complete running back, Williams is a solid pass protector and plays behind his pads when he as the ball. Williams runs with low pad level and is able to set up defenders in the open field to create space.

This play is a great example of what Williams brings to the table. He has patience, makes a decision, and bursts through the hole explosively. Williams carries it with great pad level and finishes the play.

In the Steelers offense, Williams could push Benny Snell for the short-yardage role initially before expanding his influence on the offense. Snell was disappointing at times in 2020 and it'll be interesting to see how the Steelers approach his role moving forward. If they're looking to replace Snell with a player with a higher ceiling, Williams could be a viable second-round option.

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