The Pittsburgh Steelers went the route many foresaw and selected Alabama running back Najee Harris with the No. 24 overall selection in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday.
The Steelers will turn to the 6-foot-2, 230-pound running back to replace multi-year start James Conner, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals earlier this month. This pick marks the first time the Steelers selected a running back in the first round since 2008, when they drafted Rashard Mendenhall.
Harris is a powerful, downhill runner who also boasts an impressive amount of elusiveness for his size. He is a decent receiving option who steadily improved as a passing game threat during his junior and senior campaigns.
Since this pick was considered a high possibility, Harris was asked about his thoughts on joining the Steelers when he was a guest on ESPN’s First Take.
“It would be good to be a Steeler,” Harris responded, “At the end of the day, I just want to know where I’m setting up shop at for the next couple years and what colors I’ll be wearing. If it is the Steelers, I’ll be more than happy.”
Harris was a two-year starter at Alabama, although he saw extensive time as a backup his freshman and sophomore seasons. He is Alabama’s all-time leader in total touchdowns (57) and rushing touchdowns (46). Harris is also Alabama’s all-time leading rusher with 3,843 yards on the ground, and his 4,624 all-purpose yards are good for second most in Crimson Tide history. These rankings are even more impressive considering Harris topped former Heisman winners Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, and former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander.
In 2020, Harris ran for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns. He helped Alabama to its third national title in six years and was named the 2020 Doak Walker Award Winner, which is given to the best running back in college football.
Some analysts considered an offensive lineman or a cornerback to be bigger needs in Pittsburgh, but with Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony MacFarland Jr. leading the depth chart at running back, the Steelers jumped on the opportunity to fill a skill position spot.