Matt Williamson is a former NFL scout and current co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio Subscribe to the podcast here. Williamson's opinions do not reflect those of the Steelers organization.
The Draft Pick: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The Draft Spot: First Round, 24th Overall
There is an ongoing debate, mostly brought on by folks in this business on the analytical side of things, of whether or not it is a good business practice to draft a running back in the first round. That can be debated round and round and there are good arguments on both sides. But the fact is, NFL coaches just do not think that way.
Hypothetical: It is December 5th, 2021, at Heinz Field. The Steelers are hosting Baltimore. The wind is swirling. There is a fair degree of precipitation in the air. It is midway through the fourth quarter and Pittsburgh is leading 23-21 in a very hard-fought game in typical Steelers/Ravens fashion. Do you really think Mike Tomlin and the offensive coaching staff cares when Najee Harris was drafted? They are looking to their running back to help seal a victory in the AFC North division. They care about using everything possible to win a crucial football game.
Harris can really help in that regard, as well as bringing much more to the table for the Steelers in 2021 and subsequent seasons.
Take a look at the best Polaroid photos of the Steelers' first-round pick Najee Harris after the 2021 NFL Draft
What is Harris as a player? With the possible exception of his long speed, Harris is basically the prototype at the running back position. It is easy to see why he was an elite recruit coming out of high school. He is big, powerful, smooth, explosive. You name it. Harris has an uncanny build for the position with an unusually huge wingspan and is an excellent natural catcher of the football. His technique in pass protection needs to be developed further, but Harris absolutely has the traits and great work ethic to excel in this critical area before long. He has star potential.
What will Harris' role be in 2021? Only time will tell, but he provides the Steelers with a variety of options. Obviously, he's well-suited to be the featured back on first and second downs. Additionally, he has the tools to take over the short yardage duties. On third and fourth downs with a few yards to go, I don't expect to see as many passes or finesse styles of runs. Just give it to Harris and let him do the rest. While we may see more zone style running plays going forward, with Harris, the Steelers offense will have the ability to simply impose itself on the opponent. Another option Harris brings to the table that should not be minimized: he has proven an ability to split out wide and run a large assortment of routes, which is uncommon for running backs his size.
What value does Harris bring to the Steelers down the road? All of the above should be considered for both the near and long term – but then also add in the effect on the quarterback position. When Ben Roethlisberger comes to the line of scrimmage, he's now less likely to need to check out of a run play. With a true feature back now standing behind him, he can simply put the ball in Harris' belly and let the talented runner make something happen. But frankly, no matter who the Steelers quarterback is, having a reliable option in the backfield should not be discounted – be it as a ball carrier, but maybe even more importantly, as an easy, safe throw option that happens to have a gigantic catching radius and supple hands.