Prior to selecting running back Najee Harris at 24th overall in this year’s draft, the Steelers selected running backs ranging from the third to fifth round in four consecutive drafts and none of them really stood out as being feature running backs. James Conner had his moments, but he struggled to stay healthy, which is why the Steelers didn’t even entertain the idea of re-signing him.
The Steelers and Mike Tomlin have been craving for a bell-cow running back, similar to what they had in Le’Veon Bell, and they believe they have that in Harris.
It‘s a good thing that the Steelers selected Harris in the first round and didn’t wait until their second-round pick, as all the top running backs would have been gone by then. And if that were the case, the Steelers would have had arguably the worst running back group in the entire league.
“The Steelers’ backfield will ride on the success of first-round selection Najee Harris,“ Ben Linsey of PFF wrote. “Before his arrival, it was shaping up to be in the competition for the worst running back group in the NFL, with Benny Snell Jr. as the lead back (57.0 overall grade in 2020) and players such as Anthony McFarland Jr. and Kalen Ballage rounding out the group.
“Harris' well-rounded game clearly gives them a better option for the upcoming season. He has unique elusiveness in the open field for someone his size and is a natural receiver out of the backfield. There’s a reason he earned three consecutive PFF grades of 88.0 or higher at Alabama from 2018 to 2020.
It’s just difficult to put the unit as a whole very high, with limited quality depth behind a rookie lead back.”
With Harris being a rookie and the depth behind him being shaky, the Steelers’ running back group being ranked 24th seems valid by PFF.