We are now less than 24 hours from the start of the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland. While there have been a number of first-round prospects linked to the Pittsburgh Steelers, no name has come up more often than Alabama running back Najee (Nah-gee) Harris.
For starters, ESPN senior NFL insider Jeremy Fowler did his part to rev up the Harris-to-the-Steelers bandwagon on Tuesday:
My Steelers pick for the ESPN NFL Nation Mock Draft…Najee Harris, RB, Alabama pic.twitter.com/cyGtcqWvcl
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) April 28, 2021
Then on Wednesday morning, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (PFT) indicated that “a source with knowledge of the dynamics driving the 2021 draft tells PFT that the Steelers are expected to take Harris or [linebacker Zaven] Collins (Tulsa), if either is there.
“If both are there … Collins could be the choice, given that plenty of other running backs can be found in later rounds of the draft,” added Florio.
Yet there are a couple indicators working against the idea of the Steelers choosing Collins. First, he didn’t play in a Power 5 conference, and the Steelers haven’t spent a first-round pick on a player from a non-Power 5 school since drafting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (Miami of Ohio) in 2004.
Moreover, neither Colbert nor Steelers head coach head coach Mike Tomlin attended Collins’ Pro Day, and both almost always attend the Pro Day of the first player they end up selecting. Moreover, the Steelers have greater immediate needs than linebacker, with running back and center the first two positions that come to mind.
On the other hand, Harris checks the Power 5/Pro Day boxes, but working against him is the fact that he’s overaged. That is, he’s already 23, whereas the Steelers prefer their first- and second-round picks to be much younger (more room to improve, less wear and tear, etc.)
Miami Dolphins Are First in Line to Draft Najee Harris?
Nevertheless, Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network also believes that the Steelers will be selecting Harris, if he’s still available, with the Miami Dolphins (No. 18 overall) or New York Jets (No. 23) also likely landing spots.
That matches the worldview of longtime NFL insider John Clayton, who doesn’t believe the Steelers will get Harris, if only because he’ll be gone before the No. 24 pick.
“I think the Miami Dolphins either take him at 18 or even trade down a few spots ahead of the Jets [and] the Steelers,” he offered during a recent interview on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. In that case he thinks the Steelers will go with Clemson running back Travis Etienne, who checks the Power 5/Pro Day/age boxes.
It’s worth noting, though, that the Steelers have drafted just one running back in the first round since Kevin Colbert came to Pittsburgh, that being Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois) in 2008. Prior to that one needs to look back to the Chuck Noll era, during which time the Steelers drafted four running backs in round one: Hall of Famer Franco Harris in 1972, Greg Hawthorne in 1979, Walter Abercrombie in 1982 and Tim Worley in 1989.
A Name for Steelers Fans to Keep in Mind for Round 2
Assuming the Steelers do go with a running back in the first round, a name to keep in mind in the second round is interior offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater). Pauline, not to mention Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, believes that Pittsburgh could be targeting Meinerz with the No. 55 overall pick, who played guard in college but projects to center. The Steelers have a need at center—and will soon have a need at right guard—with David DeCastro now on the wrong side of 30 and entering the last year of his contract.
Meinerz can probably overcome the fact that he went to a Division III school, but he didn’t play football last year because Wisconsin-Whitewater cancelled its season. Earlier this week, Colbert indicated that—all things being equal—the Steelers would prefer to pick players who played football last season.
“We’ll take the one that played because we don’t know what the opt-outs will be like in their first season back in football. We believe it’s hard to sit this game out,” concluded Colbert.
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