The majority of running backs in the NFL draft have been disregarded as wasted picks in the first round. That is until you run into Najee Harris this year. Yes, Derek Henry was a second-round pick, but Harris won't be there for the Steelers come the second round nor do I think Travis Etienne with be there either. Also, there could be a big run on offensive linemen early in the 2021 NFL draft so it would be a reach for the Steelers to pick the 6th best offensive lineman in the first round when they can get them in the second round. With that being said here are the 4 potential top 4 running backs that could be available to the Steelers when they pick in the 2021 Draft.
Najee Harris - Alabama Crimson Tide
Harris is going to be one of the best backs coming out of the 2021 NFL draft. He has the size, athleticism, skill, blocking, speed, pass-catching ability, third-down ability, and awareness to find the endzone. Alabama is always loaded in the back-field, but Harris managed to get some playing time with the Crimson Tide during his freshman year. In 2017 Harris averaged 6.1 yards per carry. He had 61 rushing attempts, for 370 yards, and 3 touchdowns his freshman year. In his sophomore year, he had 117 rushing attempts, for 783 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns. He averaged 6.7 rushing yards per carry. In his junior year, Harris started to flourish. Najee had 209 rushing attempts, for 1,224 rushing yards, and 13 touchdowns. His averages per run started to dip in his junior and senior year, but I think that is because he had many more carries than his freshman and sophomore years. By his senior year, Harris looked the most developed he has ever been. He had 251 rushing attempts, for 1,466 rushing yards, with 26 touchdowns. He became the leading rusher in Alabama history surpassing Derek Henry. Harris is my number 1 running back in the 2021 NFL draft. He will be able to start right away with any team he is drafted with. If he falls to the Pittsburgh Steelers they have no choice but to take him. If he doesn't fall to the Steelers there are other running backs who do fit the role in Pittsburgh quite well too.
Travis Etienne - Clemson Tigers
Travis Etienne has the potential to become an RB1 once drafted into the NFL. He was ACC's All-Time leading rusher. Etienne is an explosive running back, with balance, power, catching ability out of the backfield, can be a nightmare for linebackers in the open field, has discipline, and blocks. Unlike Harris, Etienne had his best seasons with the Tigers his Sophomore and Junior year. During his freshman season, Travis rushed 107 times, for 766 rushing yards, with 13 touchdowns. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry. During his sophomore season, Etienne began to explode. He rushed 204 times, for 1,658 rushing yards, with 24 touchdowns. He averaged 8.1 rushing yards per carry. This was his best season with the Tigers. During his junior season, Travis rushed 207 times, for 1,614 rushing yards, with 19 touchdowns. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry. Travis had an underwhelming senior year just because his sophomore and junior years were so dominant. He still managed to put up great numbers. He rushed 168 times, for 914 yards, with 14 touchdowns. Averaging 5.4 rushing yards per carry. There is no doubt Travis Etienne can become a superstar in the NFL. He is projected to go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the last pick in the 2021 NFL draft and the Steelers may have to decide between Harris or Etienne. Both are fascinating picks.
Javonte Williams - North Carolina
No one knew about Javonte Williams until his breakout 2020 season. Javonte Williams would be a good pick if both Harris and Etienne are gone by the time the Steelers were to select again in the second round. He could even fall into the 3rd round because he was unknown before his senior season. Still, he is a bowling ball on the football field. He is another explosive running back who has size, strength, speed, and can become an every-down threat in the NFL. Williams played at UNC for only 3 seasons. He decided to go into the NFL draft after his breakout junior season. During his freshman season, he rushed 43 times, for 224 yards, with 5 touchdowns. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry. During his sophomore season, Williams started to elevate his game by having 166 rushing attempts, 933 rushing yards, and 5 touchdowns. He averaged 5.6 rushing yards per carry. It was not until his Junior year he eventually exploded. Williams rushed 157 times, for 1,140 rushing yards, with 19 touchdowns. He averaged 7.3 rushing yards per carry. Javonte made the right decision to come into the draft after that explosive junior season. He can fit with any scheme, but he fits best to one-cut opportunities. He will also be a bit more raw than Harris or Etienne, but he is capable of becoming an RB1 in the NFL who is an explosive running back with great athleticism.
Trey Sermon - Ohio State Buckeyes
Trey Sermon has not hit 1,000 rushing yards any time during his career, but he came close his sophomore season. Sermon isn't as flashy as Harris, Etienne, and Williams. He gets the job done in the backfield though. Sermon has an old-school runningback feeling when watching him run on the football field. He doesn't bring much receiving value and seems to be far from an elite athlete. Again he still gets the job done when running the football. During his freshman season, Sermon rushed 121 times, for 744 rushing yards, and 5 touchdowns. He averaged 6.1 rushing yards per carry. His sophomore season seemed to be the best season in regards to statistics. He rushed 164 times, for 947 rushing yards, with 13 touchdowns. He averaged 5.8 rushing yards. His junior season was his worst season with Ohio State. He rushed 54 times, for 385 rushing yards, and 4 touchdowns. He averaged 7.1 rushing yards per carry. Finally during his senior season Sermon rushed 116 times, for 870 yards, and 4 touchdowns. He averaged 7.5 rushing yards. Those aren't flashy statistics, but they're consistent. It also seems Sermon picked up his yards per carry in his junior and senior season. Sermon is expected to be a mid-round prospect. He does lack production on third-downs but exploded during his National Championship run. He is an early-down running back. I would take Harris, Etienne, and Harris before Sermon.