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Where does Najee Harris rank among all fantasy running backs in '21-'22?


(Photo by Collegiate Images via Getty Images)


It's hard not to get excited about Najee Harris's potential this season. Already, Harris has impressed teammates and coaches with his raw physical ability and relentless work ethic. It's just OTAs, but by all accounts, Harris appears ready to be "that dude" the Steelers selected in the first round.


So, as far as fantasy football is concerned, where does Harris rank among all running backs? How soon is too soon to draft the Alabama star in your league? Let's take a look at some recent precedent to get a better idea.


Recent 1st Round Backs


Pittsburgh's selection of Harris hasn't been met with universal applause, of course. Many critics have suggested the Steelers would have been better off taking an offensive lineman with the draft pick, and the hit rate on rookie running backs has been shaky as is.


According to Michael Fabiano of Sports Illustrated, of the 17 running backs selected in the first round since 2010, only 10 have finished in the top 10 of fantasy RB's in their rookie year. At just 59%, those odds aren't exactly enticing. Most recently, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was derailed by injury and finished outside of the top-20 for fantasy backs. The year prior. Josh Jacobs finished as fantasy RB 21, though he broke out in his second season as fantasy RB 8.


But in years prior, first-round running backs were far more productive. Saquon Barkley was the second overall pick in 2018 and finished as the top fantasy back that year (while racking up 91 receptions).


In 2017, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey each finished as top 10 fantasy RB's after being selected in the first round.


Volume


Typically, two factors that can impact a running back's fantasy value are volume and health. We already know that volume won't be an issue for Najee.


At 6'2" 230 lbs, Harris has the frame to take on a monster workload- just ask Nick Saban. Harris carried the ball 251 times for Alabama as a senior, amassing 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns. Add on 43 receptions on 53 targets (with just one drop) and four touchdowns receiving, and Harris has proven he is capable of being a bell cow.


And if there's one thing we know about Mike Tomlin, it's that he loves to use a featured runner. In 2017-2018, Le'Veon Bell touched the ball 406 times in 15 games. Just next season, James Conner got 270 touches in 13 games.


It's completely reasonable to think that Harris will generate roughly 300 touches in his rookie campaign. By comparison, Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliot has averaged 330.8 touches per season in his career. Over the last three seasons, Derrick Henry has averaged 316 touches.


Najee Harris is going to tote the rock.


Verdict


Given Harris's pedigree in college, draft position, and seemingly sky-high workload, it's not completely unrealistic to envision him as a top-5 fantasy running back this season.


On top of being a homer, I'd probably be foolish to suggest drafting Harris ahead of proven NFL stars like McCaffrey, Barkley, Henry, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb or Alvin Kamara- but Najee is firmly in the next group of backs with guys like Ezekiel Elliot, Aaron Jones, and Josh Jacobs.


Should Harris catch 65+ passes he'll likely be one of the breakout fantasy stars of the year. As long as he stays healthy, Harris will benefit greatly from the renewed urgency surrounding improving the running game in Pittsburgh, and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm appears to be doing a fine job emphasizing physicality and toughness.


So just take Najee in the first round of your fantasy draft. You know you want to.





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