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2021 NFL Draft

Steelers Early ID of Najee Harris as Target Made for ‘Easy Decision’ on Draft Day



The Pittsburgh Steelers knew right away who they wanted to take when their turn to pick came up in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday night.

With the draft operating remotely, it was a virtual signal to the NFL office that the team was selecting Alabama running back Najee Harris with the No. 24. Nobody had to run to the podium to begin the process that ended with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reading Harris’ name in front of several thousand lustily booing Browns fans in Cleveland.

But they probably would have.

The Steelers identified Harris early on in the scouting process as a strong potential fit with the team’s desire to improve its running game and his potential as a true three-down workhorse in the NFL.

General manager Kevin Colbert and his scouting staff picked out Harris early on, with the Steelers scouting six of Alabama’s game in person last fall despite coronavirus restrictions on travel and attendance, including one trip by Colbert himself.

Colbert and some Steelers scouts got to chat with Harris during the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama in January and the Steelers sent Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator to Matt Canada to Alabama’s Pro Day, but Harris did not work out while rehabbing an injury. When he did perform later in the spring, running backs coach Eddie Faulkner went to Tuscaloosa to get a look at him.

Given the restrictions on scouting, the Steelers identifying Harris as a potential fit early on allowed the team to feel comfortable with its level of due diligence.

“We had several opportunities to visit with him,” Tomlin said. “Kevin and the scouting department had an opportunity to visit with him in Mobile. I had an opportunity to participate in that remotely. And then we had another Zoom opportunity later in the process, and we were really comfortable with getting an opportunity to get to know him under those circumstances.”

So when the New York Jets traded up from No. 23 to take guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and the Miami Dolphins went with a pass rusher instead of taking Harris at No. 18, the Steelers had a pretty good idea they were getting their man.

“When we went through our scenarios, it was an easy decision by us to say, if Najee Harris is available, we will pick him,” Colbert said. “He’s an exciting player, and like we said, he’s a three-dimensional running back coming from a professional offensive system. He’s made NFL runs his whole career, and it was easy to identify him quite honestly. I got to see him live myself this year. We had six live looks at him during the course of the season between myself and the scouts, and every time we talked about him, we were excited that again, this caliber of player would be available to us.”

Harris was asked about the Steelers in multiple pre-draft interviews, but he said that he never really expected the team to take him with the 24th overall pick, despite their elevated level of interest.

“Of course you hear a lot of mixed rumors of everything that was going on with — especially in the draft —with the Steelers picking you,” he said. “I’m sure there were other teams, but me personally, like even all the stuff that you see online, I can’t really say I expected that, especially being a running back. You expect a bunch of stuff, but for it to actually happen, I didn’t really think that was going to happen.”

But when Tomlin picked up the phone to let Harris know he’d be the next member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he didn’t need to make an introduction.

“Najee? Man, you know who this is,” he said.

“Yes sir, I’m ready,” Harris responded.

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