Najee Harris wrapped up a very successful 4-year college career with the Crimson Tide and is going to be a very successful player in the NFL. During his first two years, he was part of a ridiculous running back group: in 2017 he shared the backfield with Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, and Bo Scarbrough, and in 2018 he still split reps with Jacobs and Harris. With all this NFL-level talent in that backfield, Harris was still able to produce in his first two years. He had 178 carries and turned that into 1,153 yards and 7 touchdowns. He was not asked during this time to catch passes out of the backfield. These first two years set up his trajectory that would see his usage and production increase significantly.
During his last two years at Alabama, he was able to fully showcase his talent as the undisputed RB1 in the nation's top offense and build on his dual-threat ability as both a runner and receiver. In 2019, his workload doubled and he turned his 209 carries into 1,124 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns while adding 27 receptions for 304 yards and 7 touchdowns as a pass-catcher.
In his final season, Harris had 251 carries and turned that into 1,466 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. He was asked to do a lot as a pass-catcher compared to last season and exceeded expectations, hauling in 43 receptions for 425 yards and 4 touchdowns. He finished the year as the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation’s top running back and was 5th in the Heisman voting.
Alabama running backs have a long history of producing in the NFL (Shaun Alexander, Eddie Lacy, Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry) and Najee Harris is another to add to that list.
NFL Draft and Off-season
As almost every mock draft had predicted, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Najee Harris with the 24th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and he was the first running back selected. With James Conner entering free agency and later signing with the Cardinals, this was the most logical move for a team that was looking for its new workhorse running back.
The Steelers signed Kalen Balage, who currently sits as the fourth RB behind Harris, Snell, and McFarland Jr. Either Snell or McFarland Jr. could be on the roster bubble and with no serious signings this offseason, Harris is going to see a healthy dose of carries this season.
The only negative during the offseason for Harris is the fact that the Steelers didn’t address its offensive line woes. Ben Roethlisberger needs to remain healthy for this team to make any kind of postseason run and we saw how inefficient Conner was behind a terrible offensive line. While I believe Harris’ talent far exceeds any running back on the team over the past 5 years not named Le’Veon Bell, it’s still something of a concern.
2021 Fantasy Outlook
Last season, the Steelers' offensive line was horrible (it still isn’t great) and Mike Tomlin decided to go all out and abandon the run last year. The total amount of rushing yards for the team was 1,351, which landed them last in the league in total rushing yards. The teams’ top running back, James Conner, ran for only 721 yards (55.5 yards per game) and 6 touchdowns. He also contributed with 35 receptions for 215 yards (0 touchdowns) as a pass catcher, but in full- PPR leagues, he ended the year as the RB27, behind committee-type RBs such as Chase Edmonds, Ronald Jones, and J.D. McKissic. Not great for a running back that was drafted in the first two rounds last year.
This season, Najee Harris is looking to provide fantasy owners with RB1 value and he is currently the 12th RB off the board at an average draft position (ADP) of 2.05. We know Mike Tomlin does not like to use a running back committee and he is loyal to his running back workhorse. He has his guy now and used his highest draft pick to make sure they had someone who could run and catch.
For fantasy purposes, Narris should jump in and have an immediate impact as the number of carries and targets he should receive will give him a nice weekly floor, and this should counter any concerns with the offensive line. We have seen running backs finish high on the fantasy season even with question marks with the offensive line (Dalvin Cook, for example) and it’s the usage in the passing game which will ultimately determine his ceiling.
If he doesn’t receive the pass-catching work we are expecting, his ceiling will be limited and he may just end up as an “okay” running back to play every week, much like Clyde Edwards-Helaire was last season. One thing that does work out in his favor, though, is that Roethlisberger targeted his running backs a total of 80 times in 2020. While Harris won’t receive all of these targets, he should see the majority of them, and if he can be efficient with the touches he receives from the get-go, we could see Harris finish as a top 8-10 RB at the end of the year having and he could approach 1,300 total yards and approach double-digit touchdowns.
Filed under: Free Articles