(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew, who also played running back for nine years in the NFL, released his top five breakout running backs for the 2021 season on Good Morning Football yesterday and he had fellow Bay Area native Najee Harris of the Steelers ranked at No. 5.
"This is the thing about Najee Harris, he is from Antioch, California -- my hometown, right? So, he has to be on this list," Jones-Drew said. "Not only that though -- 6-1, 235 pounds, can run inside, run outside. He's so versatile that they really didn't utilize him at Alabama the way he was able to go out and catch the ball out of the backfield. I got a chance to coach against him in high school in both 7-on-7 and tackle football. This guy's just a true monster, a pro's pro. You've heard Ben Roethlisberger talk about how he won't leave the facility. So, this guy here, he's going to have a tremendous year regardless of their O-line issues, all that. He's going to play lights out -- Le'Veon Bell 2.0."
Above Harris, Jones-Drew had J.K. Dobbins of the Ravens at No. 4, David Montgomery of the Bears at No. 3, Cam Akers of the Rams at No. 2 and Jonathan Taylor of the Colts at No. 1. Taylor was pretty impressive in his rookie year and I can see him breaking out in his sophomore campaign, so Jones-Drew having him at No. 1 seems valid. I believe the same for Dobbins, but I would probably have Harris at No. 2 or 3, definitely above Akers and Montgomery. I can see if Dobbins was at No. 2, however.
Dobbins should continue to get a ton of carries in the Ravens' run-heavy offense and he's now the clear-cut No. 1 running back with Mark Ingram gone. With Stafford now the Rams' quarterback, I expect them to be more of a passing team and Akers not being depended on to carry the load as much. And then for the Bears, I expect them to struggle this season with either veteran Andy Dalton or rookie Justin Fields starting at quarterback, and I just don't know how much of a breakout year Montgomery would be able to put together with not that much talent around him. Although, he should get a ton of touches with the uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Which brings us to Najee Harris. I fully expect Harris to get a ton of carries in Year 1 and be the bell-cow running back that Mike Tomlin and the Steelers have been dreaming about since Le'Veon Bell last played with the team in 2017. With a 17-game schedule, Harris should be able to easily surpass 1,000 yards rushing and possibly even have 500 yards receiving. That's of course if he can remain healthy. The expectations might seem a little high, but the Steelers are going to need Harris to produce at a high level if they're going to make the playoffs in 2021 and make a run at the Super Bowl.