Alabama running back Najee Harris is busy preparing to face Ohio State on Monday in the College Football Playoff Championship Game, while the Pittsburgh Steelers are readying to host the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the NFL Playoffs.
But Harris and the Steelers keep getting linked together, as star Pittsburgh running back James Conner is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and has acknowledged that each of his remaining games in Pittsburgh could be his last.
Harris, meanwhile, has been projected by many draft experts to be available in the later half of the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, where Pittsburgh will be picking. In the first mock draft from ESPN analyst Todd McShay released last week, he has the Steelers picking Harris at No. 28 overall.
The Steelers do have other options behind Conner, with Benny Snell performing well when called upon this season and rookie Anthony McFarland Jr. has showed promise. But neither has the all-around skill-set that Conner or Harris brings to the table.
“Speed, power, pass-catching and pass-protection ability, Harris brings it all,” McShay wrote.
McShay also mentioned that quarterback and offensive line are needs for the Steelers, and specifically suggested Ohio State tackle Wyatt Davis and Tennessee’s Trey Smith as other options.
Kevin Colbert: Steelers Will Draft Prospects That Play in 2020 Over Those That Sit Out
With an increasing number of college football players choosing to opt-out of the 2020 season, questions have arisen regarding how their decision to sit will affect their draft stock.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is providing some clarity and honestly to those questions.
Speaking to The Ringer, Colbert said he would prioritize players that played in 2020 during the draft process than those who do not. While he respects the decisions of those players putting their health and safety first, Colbert would favor players that have played most recently.
“The one thing, the conferences that chose not to play, and the players that opted out, we understand all that. Obviously, they are doing it for safety and health, first and foremost, and we respect that. However, the players that get the opportunity to play and choose to play, we feel more comfortable in their evaluations,” Colbert said. “Because I just don’t know, sitting out a year, what those players are going to look like having missed the season. There’s just not a real natural source of information saying, ‘Well, when this player sits out, he’ll be this’ because we just don’t know. We respect the fact that they aren’t playing, but we also have to make the best decisions and I think the best decisions we’ll be able to make are the ones where we can see them play in 2020.
“If there are two players that are close or equal, we’ll take the one that has played most recently. We’re hopeful that the other conferences get up and running. If they do, we’ll add that to the evaluations. If they don’t—again, all we have is 2019 and we’ll make the best decisions we can.”
While somewhat cutthroat, Colbert’s position is understandable. Front office jobs are earned and lost in the NFL based on getting draft picks right. Selecting a player that you just watched an entire season of on film is assuredly a safer bet than taking one that you have not seen play in over a year.
Recent opt-outs like Oregon offensive lineman Penei Sewell and LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase will be fine, as they are the top prospects at their position. The true controversy will be with players farther down draft boards that opted out, as their NFL pedigrees are far from set in stone.
Unfortunately, we will have to wait until April 2021 to see if Colbert’s opinion plays out.
Steelers Scouting UAB-Central Arkansas Live
The first FBS football game of the 2020 season took place on Thursday night, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were scouting it in person.
UAB hosted Central Arkansas in Birmingham, Ala., and according to Jordan Reid of The Draft Network, the Steelers were one of six NFL teams with a live scouting presence, joining the Bears, Dolphins, Falcons, Panthers and Titans.
Scouts from the Dolphins, Panthers, Steelers, Bears, Falcons, and Titans are in attendance at tonight’s matchup between Central Arkansas and UAB (8 p.m. EST, ESPN3).
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) September 3, 2020
UAB has a pair of skill position 2021 NFL Draft prospects: running back Spencer Brown and wide receiver Austin Watkins, Jr.