Updated: May 5, 2021
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Steelers got their bell-cow running back that Mike Tomlin has been craving for by drafting Alabama's Najee Harris at 24th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. It's the first time that the Steelers have selected a running back in the first round since picking Rashard Mendenhall at No. 23 in the 2008 NFL Draft.
The Steelers have missed on mid-round running backs the previous four drafts, so addressing the position early in the draft was a no-brainer. Did you really expect the Steelers to go into the 2021 season with Benny Snell Jr. as their starting running back?
Steelers Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis approved the selection of Harris when he talked with the media this morning at an 84 Lumber event celebrating students making their careers in skilled trades.
“When you see him on the football field, he’s the modern NFL power back," Bettis said of Harris via KDKA. "He has the speed, he’s got the power, but he also has the hands to get out of the backfield and make plays outside of that offensive line,” Bettis said. “That’s going to really help the Steelers in terms of the passing game but most importantly I think that their commitment to running the football is going to return. I think that because they have to understand: if you don’t run the football, you’re not going to win. I think that the Steelers understand that, they’re refocused and committed, and it was a great pick."
In December of 2020, Bettis told Ed Bouchette of The Athletic that he was sick watching the Steelers' running game fail, especially when they failed to score on five tries from the Washington 1-yard line in a Week 13 loss. He also mentioned that the Steelers needed to be more committed to the run game, as Ben Roethlisberger ended up throwing 608 pass attempts last year, which was the third-most in the league.
“The only solution in fixing the running game is the commitment,” Bettis said. “You got to be committed to it because once you commit to it then the offensive linemen, they have a different attitude about it, the running backs look at it differently, just the whole offense changes. You can’t just fix the running game with Xs and Os. It doesn’t happen that way.
Hopefully getting a top-tier running back like Harris will change the Steelers' fortunes when it comes to running the ball, just how it was when Bettis was carrying the load for the Steelers' offenses of the late 1990s and early 2000s.