When the Steelers selected Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, many analysts blasted the pick. Years later, opinions of Harris remain mixed, especially with the rise of Jaylen Warren as a complement in the backfield. However, one selection after Harris came off the board, the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Travis Etienne out of Clemson. The explosive Etienne has carved out a niche in the NFL as one of the NFL’s best emerging young running backs.
But looking back on it, was it a mistake? Former NFL scout John Middlekauff believes that Pittsburgh made a mistake not only drafting a running back but also picking the wrong running back anyway. He blasted the pick in general and believes Pittsburgh would take it back.
“I’ve watched Najee since he was in high school,” Middlekauff said on the 3 and Out podcast. “I’ve loved him. Obviously, one of the biggest recruits in the country. Followed his career closely at Alabama. He’s just pretty average. If you could have that as a do-over, they would have a do-over. Hell, they picked the wrong running back. Back to back picks, it was Najee Harris and Travis Etienne. In 2023, it’s not even debatable who you would rather have out of those two players.”
Since missing his rookie season due to injury, Travis Etienne has carved out a big role on the Jacksonville offense. While not the biggest back in the world, Etienne is one of the last true three-down workhorses still thriving in the NFL landscape. Harris has kept a steady role, too, and the Steelers love what he brings to the table as a power back in their scheme. However, there is merit to the fact that the pick was not the smartest pick at the time. Even back then, with Ben Roethlisberger on the last legs of his career and an offensive line that struggled, Harris ran the mud for multiple seasons without a competent offensive line.
The unit is thriving in a better spot, so Harris looks like a much better running back. I would say he’s better than average. He’s a very solid NFL running back. Etienne is a very good NFL running back, too. But the past is in the past, and the Steelers can not magically go back and change that pick. But they have a very important decision upcoming with Harris after the season, where they will decide if they want to pick up his fifth-year option or not.