Very rarely does the Pittsburgh Steelers organization take a running back in the first round of the NFL draft. The Steelers typically love to draft defensively early on, but could this season be different than in recent years? There is a very good chance the Steelers are going to draft a running back very early on in the 2021 NFL draft. Especially after James Conner decided to leave town during the 2021 offseason. Even Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is saying the Steelers are planning on drafting a running back as early as the first round, but no later than the second round of the 2021 NFL draft. So that gives you an idea of what Pittsburgh plans on doing early on.
The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to draft a running back in the first round of the NFL draft was Illinois Rashard Mendenhall in 2008. Although he did play better than James Conner's time in Pittsburgh he just didn't live up to the hype by being a first-round pick. Mendenhall surpassed 1,000 rushing yards during 2 seasons with the Steelers and had 29 touchdowns. You would want to see better numbers coming from a first-round running back, but Mendenhall still produced quite well in Pittsburgh when he was on the football field.
The only first-round running back the Pittsburgh Steelers have taken during the Kevin Colbert era was Rashard Mendenhall. That just tells you how rare it is for Colbert to pull the trigger on a first-round running back. I will say this offseason feels much different than previous seasons and I feel the Pittsburgh Steelers are very interested in Najee Harris. They have met with him several times over the course of the offseason. In one of the meetings, the Steelers brought their entire communication team and management to the meeting as well as their defensive coaches. That should tell you all you need to know if they're serious about taking Harris in the 2021 draft.
There are also two other premier running backs in the 2021 NFL draft who the Steelers have met with during the offseason. They're Travis Etienne and Javonte Williams. I believe the Steelers will end up with one of the top 3 premier running backs in the 2021 NFL draft. They need to take a running back early on because drafting a running back in the 3rd round or later has not worked for the Steelers organization. They need to get back to running the football physically in Pittsburgh and Harris, Etienne, or Williams are capable of bringing that to Pittsburgh. The Steelers should get a running back early on and get their running game back to the likes of when they had Le'Veon Bell and Jerome Bettis.