The Steelers selected running back Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the 24th pick overall.
“We were very excited that he was there for us,” said General Manager Kevin Colbert. “When we went through our scenarios, it was an easy decision by us to say, if Najee Harris is available, we will pick him. He’s an exciting player, and like we said, he’s a three-dimensional running back coming from a professional offensive system.
“He played in an NFL system and really his one hidden trait is he finds invisible yards at that second level. There’s times where you think he should just be going down and all of a sudden he finds six, seven, eight yards. It’s just really exciting to get what we think is a three-down back and add him to the team.”
One of the things the Steelers are focused on this offseason is improving the ground game, which was ranked last in the NFL in 2020.
“I understand they did finish last in rushing last year, but I feel like through a lot of stuff, practice and hard work, that can be changed,” said Harris. “I don’t feel pressure at all. I have come from a lot of situations where stuff was put on me, especially in college. The NFL is different. I feel like it’s nothing I can’t do.”
Harris, who played at the University of Alabama, finished his college career as the Crimson Tide’s all-time leading rusher with 3,843 career yards. He also led the school in all-time touchdowns with 57, including a school-record 46 rushing touchdowns and another 11 receiving. Harris’ 4,624 all-purpose yards rank second in school history.
“He’s got a nice combination of size, strength and athleticism,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “His picking vision is excellent in terms of finding holes. He shows patience while doing that. He’s a complete back. He’s very good in the passing game, whether it’s routes out of the backfield or aligning outside the backfield. There’s not a lot of holes in his overall game, and I think those are the things that made him an attractive selection.”
Harris, 6-2, 230, will put the combination of size, strength and athleticism to good use, even pointing out with the addition of a 17th game this season that he will be able to carry the load.
Colbert and Tomlin on Harris
“In today’s game, some people say it’s a passing league,” said Harris. “I can be utilized in the passing game, I can line up wide, in the slot, I think I am a mismatch for linebackers.
“They added another game on, we are playing more games, so I feel like they need somebody who can carry the load. I feel like I fit in perfectly.”
Harris rushed for 100 plus yards 13 times in his career, including six both his junior and senior seasons. He won the Doak Walker Award, presented to the top running back in college football, in 2020 and was a unanimous first-team All-American (Associated Press, AFCA, FWAA, The Sporting News and Walter Camp).
The Steelers had the opportunity to get to know Harris at the Senior Bowl and via a Zoom interview, and while he didn’t participate in Alabama’s Pro Day, Colbert shared a story about him being there supporting his teammates.
“At the pro days this year we weren’t able to talk to players in one-on-one type interviews because of the COVID protocols that we had to follow,” said Colbert. “But in Najee’s — Najee did a really cool kind of thing because he was flying back for the pro day that he was not going to participate in because he was still coming off of an ankle injury that he had worked his way through during the season. His flight got delayed in Dallas and he decided to drive and be available and just watch his teammates at their pro day, and that really struck a chord with Coach and I. Again, we couldn’t interact with him, but to watch him interact with his teammates while they were going through their pro days was truly special, and we had a few folks go back down for the second pro day when he did do some work.”
Harris is well-schooled in Steelers’ history, growing up a San Francisco 49ers fan being from the Bay area, but also a Steelers fan who watched plenty of Jerome Bettis and Ben Roethlisberger.
“People didn’t realize it, but I only followed two teams and that was the Steelers and the Niners,” said Harris. “I liked both teams. Seeing Big Ben perform at a high level, being able to line up with him, that’s an honor right there. I am excited to be there.”
One of the nation’s top running back prospects who passed up on the NFL Draft to return for his senior season … the Crimson Tide’s all-time leader for total TDs in a career with 57 (46 rushing, 11 receiving) … Alabama’s career leader for rushing scores with 46, surpassing the previous record of 42 by Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry … totaled 3,843 career rushing yards to rank atop the Alabama all-time list … amassed 4,624 all-purpose yards for his career, a total that is second all-time at UA … averaged 6.0 yards per carry for his career to rank third in Crimson Tide history (minimum 400 carries) … contributed 342 career points to finish fourth in UA annals … recorded 13 games of 100-plus rushing yards in his career, including six as a junior and six in his final season (206 at Ole Miss; 152 vs. Georgia; 119 vs. Mississippi State; 145 at LSU; 178 vs. Florida; 125 vs. Notre Dame) … Doak Walker Award winner, presented annually to the nation’s top running back … unanimous first-team All-American (AFCA, Associated Press, FWAA, The Sporting News, Walter Camp) … also earned first-team All-America honors from CBS Sports and ESPN.com … second-team All-America selection by Pro Football Focus and USA Today … selected as a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award … first-team All-SEC honoree by both the AP and the league coaches … named to the SEC Community Service Team … finalist for the Jason Witten Man of the Year … led the nation in total TDs (30) and rushing TDs (26) in addition to scoring (180) … finished second for single-season rushing scores by a UA back with 26 as a senior … totaled two or more rushing TDs in nine of 13 contests with at least one score in 11 games … led the SEC and finished third in Division I for rushing yards at 1,466 … added 43 receptions for 425 yards and four TDs to his senior totals … totaled 1,891 all-purpose yards in 2020, good for sixth in UA records for a single season … named a second-team Preseason All-American by four separate outlets, including the AP, TSN, USA Today and Walter Camp … tabbed to the Doak Walker Award Watch List … also selected to the Maxwell Award Watch List … Maxwell Player of the Week honoree following Ole Miss … also picked up offensive player of the week accolades from the SEC and Walter Camp following the matchup with the Rebels … the 2020 SEC Championship Game MVP … earned offensive player of the week recognition from the Alabama coaches for his play at Ole Miss, against Auburn, at LSU and against Florida in Atlanta.
Stepped into the starting role as a junior … earned honorable mention All-America honors from Pro Football Focus … selected to the All-SEC second team by the Associated Press and league coaches … totaled 2,377 career rushing yards, good for 15th all-time by an Alabama runner … recorded seven 100-plus yard games in his career, including six as a junior … contributed 20 scores as a junior (13 rushing, seven receiving) to tie for fourth in single-season ranks for TDs scored … his seven receiving TDs are the most by a Crimson Tide running back in program history and tie for ninth in the single-season receiving ranks … accumulated 1,224 yards and 13 rushing TDs on 209 carries – all team-high and career-best marks … added 27 receptions for 304 yards and seven scores in the passing game … totaled a first down or a TD on 81 of his rushes with 12 of his receptions moving the chains or crossing the goal line … tabbed as a second-team Preseason All-American by Athlon … named in the preseason to the Doak Walker, Maxwell and Walter Camp Player of the Year watch lists … selected as one of the Alabama coaching staff’s offensive players of the week for his efforts against South Carolina, Southern Miss, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn.
Expanded upon his breakout performance in the 2018 national title game to rank second among the Tide running backs with 783 yards, carrying 117 times and adding four scores … averaged a team-high 6.7 yards per carry with 18 of his carries going for 12-plus yards and 37 of his rushes resulting in a first down or a TD … his 6.7 yards per carry ranked as fifth all-time in Alabama single-season records (minimum 100 carries) … added four receptions to his sophomore stats … earned offensive player of the week recognition from the UA coaches for his play against Arkansas State.
Saw time in all 14 games, rushing 61 times for 370 yards with three TDs and a long rush of 35 yards … finished ninth in the SEC among freshmen for rushing yards despite limited carries … added six catches for 45 yards.
A January 2017 early enrollee who was tabbed as the No. 1 overall prospect in the country by Rivals, Scout and PrepStar … unanimous five-star recruit by every major recruiting outlet … the consensus top-rated player in the state of California … the third-best prospect overall and No. 2 running back according to 247Composite … ranked ninth in the Top247 … No. 11 in ESPN 300 and the second-best running back nationally … played in the 2017 Army All-American Bowl … invited to participate in Nike’s “The Opening” in 2015 and 2016 … named MVP of the 2016 Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge … 2017 first-team Parade All-American … 2016 Bobby Dodd National High School Running Back of the Year … 2015 and 2016 first-team All-USA selection by USA Today … finished his career with 7,948 career rushing yards, the fourth-most in California high school football history … rushed for 2,776 yards and 36 TDs during his senior season … ran for 2,744 yards and 36 TDs as a junior in 2015 … rushed for 2,263 yards and 23 TDs in his sophomore campaign … 2015 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Football State Player of the Year … named the All-Metro Player of the Year by The San Francisco Chronicle in both 2015 and 2016 … played for head coach John Lucido at Antioch … chose Alabama over Michigan, Ohio State, Texas, UCLA and USC.