When Alabama running back Najee Harris made the decision to return to college for his senior season in 2020, that move turned some heads.
Harris decided last January that he hadn’t had enough of college football, announcing that he would return to Tuscaloosa for his fourth season with the Crimson Tide.
Even after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Harris was not one of the several dozen players across the country that chose to opt out. Instead, he had his best season as a collegiate and cemented his status as a future first-round draft pick, a process that came to completion when he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the No. 24 overall pick on Thursday night.
In fact, it was the fact that Harris was willing to return to Alabama that caught the attention of Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert when he was beginning his prep for the 2021 NFL Draft.
“Najee decided to stay in school and go back for his senior year, which is going against the trend in college football right now,” Colbert said on Thursday. “He did that, and he won a National Championship. Obviously, Alabama had a lot of great players, him being the sixth one taken in the first round, but he was a huge part of that. I think obviously that was done because he had ability, but he also made the decision that he was going back to try to win a championship, which they did.”
Harris said individually, the excision was about being able to feel like he had accomplished all he came to Alabama to accomplish and putting his best possible foot forward before leaving for the NFL.
“Well, the decision was for me mainly because when I look at tape and film, I want to be satisfied with myself,” he said. “My junior year I was not satisfied with myself. There was a lot of things I felt like I needed to improve on and work on, me personally. …
“Was happy with what I put on film that year? No, I was not. I couldn’t say I was, so I wanted to go back and improve on all those things that I felt like I needed to work on.”
Harris had rushed for 1,224 yards on 209 carries for a 5.9 yards per carry average as a junior in 2019 while adding 27 catches for 304 yards and 20 total touchdowns. That’s a tough stat line to find a way to improve upon. But he did, as Harris rushed for 1,466 yards, caught 292 yards’ worth of passes and scored 30 touchdowns in his senior season last fall.
“I think I showed that I’m a three-down back,” Harris said. “I feel like this year I answered a lot of those questions. There’s still a lot of stuff I need to work on, but I was more satisfied with what I put on film for sure, though.”