(Photo by Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
Since the Steelers were eliminated by the Browns in the Wild Card round, the focus has turned to what the team should do in this important offseason. While we're still about four months away from the draft, many Steelers fans are already clamoring for Alabama running back Najee Harris, who starred for the Crimson Tide en route to a national championship.
It's still entirely too soon to declare what the Steelers should do with the 24th pick in the first round, as the draft process is really just beginning to play out for scouts and executives around the league. But as running back figures to be a need for Pittsburgh, let's take a look at what Harris could bring to the Steeler offense.
Size and Strength
Upon first impression, Harris is physically imposing. He's listed at 6'2" and 229 lbs and plays with toughness. While Harris's agility doesn't jump off the screen, he's a tough player to tackle and runs behind his pads.
It's not a parallel comparison, but he's similar to Derrick Henry in the fact that it's a huge burden on defensive backs to tackle Najee in open space. He's more than willing to go through you, and just because you hit him does not mean he's going down. Harris's skillset will likely be useful in short-yardage situations.
It's certainly helpful to run behind an offensive line as dominant as Alabama's, but Harris has still displayed some impression vision. Harris has exceptional balance, runs with a low center of gravity, and is decisive. He's quick in short space and strong out of his jump cut.
This run against Ole Miss is really impressive. It looks like he has nowhere to go, but he keeps his eyes up while maintaining leverage, makes a strong cut, and drags a defensive back for an extra 8 yards.
Najee never makes it easy.
Athleticism/Big Play Ability
Harris is a big-body running back but he's also able to break open a big play with some daylight. Let's be clear: Harris is not a burner. He does not have elite breakaway speed. It'll be really interesting to see his 40-yard dash and shuttle times at his pro day to get a better comparative feel of his speed. On tape, though, the game speed definitely plays. Here he is pulling away from SEC defenders at the second and third level.
Harris's skills as a receiver are really exciting. In the College Football Playoff, Najee caught 11 balls for 109 yards and a touchdown. Saban and Sark used Harris in a variety of ways as a pass-catcher, including on screens and check downs as well as wheel routes.
This reception against Texas A&M is an NFL play. Not many running backs can adjust to this back-shoulder throw and come down with the ball.
On this play, Alabama lines him up as a wide receiver in the SEC championship. He runs a nice double move off the pump fake from Mac Jones, catches the ball in stride, and glides into the end zone. Safe to say he's comfortable using his hands.
Right now, pass protection is an area that Harris could improve upon, especially given his size. While this is something that could be developed with effort and coaching, it seems like Harris doesn't bring the same physicality to blocking as he does to running
So, should the Steelers take him?
Like I said at the top, it's way too soon to make such statements with any real confidence. The Steelers will need to balance Harris's skillset alongside other prospects and general positional need, but he's definitely a player that will be on the Steelers' radar. Harris figures to be an impact player at a position the Steelers could stand to upgrade, so we'll be sure to keep tabs on him as we get closer to the draft.