The Alabama passing game got plenty of attention for its latest national championship run with Nick Saban, thanks to Heisman-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith and quarterback Mac Jones. But the Crimson Tide also featured their latest elite running back, Najee Harris.
Harris (6-2, 230 pounds) powered his way to 1,466 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns in 13 games. He also added 43 catches for 425 additional yards and four more TDs. He was an integral part of creating balance and setting up favorable play-action deep shots to Smith and speedy field-stretcher Jaylen Waddle.
Smith, Waddle and Jones are all expected to go in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. There’s also a chance that Harris comes off the board the night of April 29.
Harris is a sturdy, strong runner with tree trunks for legs. But he also has proved to be nimble and quick to flash a second gear in the open field. Harris can run either through or around defenders. He has worked to become a reliable asset in the passing game with his hands, routes and blocking.
Recent ‘Bama backs Josh Jacobs (Raiders) and Damien Harris (Patriots) have had their moments as NFL runners early in their careers, but Najee Harris might a better blend of both of their all-around skill sets. Here’s breaking down Najee Harris’ best pro landing spots:
Najee Harris’ best NFL draft fits
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 31 overall)
The Buccaneers have re-signed just about every key member of their Super Bowl 55-winning team except for running back Leonard Fournette. They have a void for a complementary runner to Ronald Jones who also can be a big factor catching passes from Tom Brady. The Bucs are well-positioned for a first-round “luxury pick” vs. going for a non-desperate need such as defensive tackle.
It might come down to which back they like more for Brady — Clemson’s Travis Etienne, a little more dynamic receiving threat, or Harris, a complete power back with underrated receiving skills in the Fournette mold.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 24)
The Steelers haven’t re-signed James Conner and don’t plan to give Benny Snell Jr. a massive role. They need to think about offensive tackle early to find a potential immediate starter with Zach Banner, but with their passing game continuing to have limitations with Ben Roethlisberger, they could use a durable, powerful every-down option to boost their running game.
Harris would be an ideal fit to pound between the tackles and also give Big Ben a reliable outlet on third downs. He has the right last name to thrive in Pittsburgh’s backfield, too.
3. New York Jets (No. 23 or No. 34)
The Jets will likely be thinking quarterback at No. 2 overall should they move on from Sam Darnold, but their second first-rounder and their first second-rounder would be good spots to think about Harris if he’s available.
Their current best running back options are Ty Johnson, La’Mical Perine and Josh Adams. They have worked to upgrade their receiving corps and offensive line, with a QB change to come. A back such as Harris would complete a needed offensive overhaul post-Adam Gase for new coordinator Mike LaFleur.
4. Atlanta Falcons (No. 35)
The Falcons will consider other offensive positions at No. 4 overall (tackle, quarterback) and have ample defensive needs to address again throughout the draft. But after one shaky year with Todd Gurley, and Brian Hill also not re-signed, they’re looking at a backfield depth chart led by Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison.
New offensive-minded coach Arthur Smith came from the Titans, where another former powerful Alabama feature back (Derrick Henry) was featured to help set up a more explosive downfield passing game. The Falcons already have a ‘Bama 1-2 punch at wide receiver with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Harris would fill a big hole and be a big immediate-impact asset for Smith.
5. Arizona Cardinals (No. 17 or No. 49)
The Cardinals like Chase Edmonds but lost another former Alabama back, Kenyan Drake, in free agency to Jacobs’ Raiders. As a prolific rushing team around fast-dashing QB Kyler Murray, they could benefit from powering up again with him in the backfield.
Taking Harris to start the second half of the first round would be a mild shocker, but not crazy as the Cardinals might already be well-positioned elsewhere on their roster to be NFC contenders. It all depends on whether there’s an edge rusher, cornerback or offensive lineman who would be more worthy of the pick, talent- and scheme-wise. If not in the first, Steve Keim should be ready to slide up a bit to target Harris in the second round.
6. Miami Dolphins (No. 18 or No. 36)
The Dolphins won’t be taking Harris at No. 3 overall, but they should be on the radar for reuniting him with Tua Tagovailoa either in the mid first round or early second round. This isn’t a “must-address” position early because of how effective Myles Gaskin was with volume last season, and the addition of former solid Rams backup Malcolm Brown. But Harris would be a fine fit if the Dolphins, with their extra picks, would want to use one that way.
7. Buffalo Bills (No. 30)
The Bills are a sleeper for Harris after not having much of a traditional running game with youngsters Devin Singletary and Zach Moss to complement Josh Allen last season. They have other more pressing needs at cornerback and edge rusher, however. Should they get Harris, their explosive offense would add a couple of more needed dimensions.