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2021 NFL Draft

Steelers, Najee Harris Don’t Agree RBs Lack First-Round Value

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Najee Harris don’t agree that running backs lack the value required to be first-round draft picks.



Steelers HC Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on April 27, 2021. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

There is a common theory amongst those associated with pro football that running backs do not make particularly good first-round picks, but that’s not a theory that the Pittsburgh Steelers ascribe to.

Running backs have relatively shorter careers compared to other positions, frequently suffer injuries that cause them to miss time and over the long haul, teams aren’t particularly good at evaluating the best running backs coming out of college.

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the third running back off the board, Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor, had the best rookie season. The second-best rookie season was turned in by 5-foot-9 Jacksonville undrafted rookie James Robinson out of FCS Illinois State. Besides Taylor, 18 other teams defeated a running back ahead of Robinson. By mid-season, all of them wished they hadn’t.

As the idea has gained traction, running backs have become less and less popular picks in the first round. Just two were selected on Thursday, with the Steelers taking Alabama running back Najee Harris and Jacksonville grabbing Clemson grad Travis Etienne.

Suffice to say, the Steelers, who took the first running back off the board at No. 24, do not subscribe to that theory.

“You know, we don’t subscribe to the theory that you mentioned,” head coach Mike Tomlin said after the pick. “(Harris) was a player that we really valued. We were ecstatic that he was there, and we took him and we took him pretty quickly with little to no dialogue.”

“Running backs are devalued,” Harris acknowledged, but he admitted he was hoping to be able to change that narrative. “I can give numerous reasons why we shouldn’t be devalued. “Just knowing that, hey, you’re better than all these guys, it’s just that you play running back, so we don’t know what’s going to happen, when they’re going to start drafting running backs. Just to finally see it happen, I’m blessed.”