3 things to know About Najee Harris, the Steelers' first round NFL Draft pick
The Pittsburgh Steelers will turn to rookie Najee Harris in the hopes of turning around the worst rushing attack in the NFL.
The Steelers selected the Alabama running back with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft Thursday night. The 23-year-old Harris ran for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior, a performance that earned him honors as the Doak Walker Award winner - given to the best college running back - and made him a unanimous All-American pick.
But just what will the Steelers be getting with Harris in the backfield? Here's a look.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
Former running back Le'Veon Bell was a talented runner, but his value to the Steelers was amplified by his ability as a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. James Conner had the job the past couple of years, but was less of a threat out of the backfield. With Harris in the fold, the Steelers might be able to add another element to the passing game once more.
During his senior season with Alabama, Harris caught 43 passes for 425 yards. Given the presence of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who likes to move players around and create unique looks, Harris could give the Steelers an extra dimension out of the backfield.
EASING THE BURDEN
To protect their aging quarterback, the Steelers emphasized getting rid of the ball quickly last year. Ben Roethliseberger was sacked just 14 times, but the Steelers still struggled for stretches offensively. A new technique to keep Big Ben upright might be with a more balanced attack.
The Steelers' running game averaged an NFL-worst 84.4 yards per game in 2020 and a measly 3.6 yards per game. Harris averaged 5.8 yards per carry at Alabama last season and 6.0 yards per carry for his collegiate career. Granted, Harris' line at Alabama is pretty darn good, but the fact that he's used to sharing the spotlight and won't necessarily need 25 carries to make an impact should help with the transition.
SOMETHING FROM NOTHING
Considering the state of the Steelers' offensive line, Harris' ability to create plays and make defenders miss could be even more valuable in his rookie season. Center Maurkice Pouncey retired, guard David DeCastro is coming off an injury-plagued season, left tackle Zach Banner missed all but one game last year, and longtime tackle Alejandro Villanueva may not return.
Harris made a name for himself with his ability to hurdle defenders. He may need to put that to use in the NFL while the Steelers work on rebuilding the line. Hey, if you can't run by them, just go over them, right?
The Steelers' next pick comes in the second round on Friday with the No. 55 selection. The Steelers also have the No. 87, No. 128, No. 140, No. 216, No. 245 and No. 254 picks in the draft.
Andrew Chiappazzi is a sports reporter and multimedia content specialist for the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BCT_AChiappazzi.