PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers made Alabama RB Najee Harris the top running back selected in the 2021 NFL draft Thursday with the No. 24 overall selection.
The Steelers' selection gave Alabama six first-round selections, tying the mark for the most ever from one school. Ahead of Harris, Alabama placed QB Mac Jones, WR Jaylen Waddle, WR DeVonta Smith, CB Patrick Surtain II and OT Alex Leatherwood in Round 1. The Miami Hurricanes' 2004 draft class included six as well: Sean Taylor, Vince Wilfork, Kellen Winslow, D.J. Williams, Jonathan Vilma and Vernon Carey.
Harris, Clemson's Travis Etienne and North Carolina's Javonte Williams were considered the top rushers available in this draft, but it was Harris who proved the best fit in Pittsburgh with an all-around skill set that can keep him on the field on third downs and deliver a high volume of carries if needed.
Harris offers remarkable short-area quickness on a 230-pound frame, along with impressive third-down skills for receiving and pass protection. After a 1,224-yard season as a junior, Harris surprised many by returning to Alabama as a senior rather than entering the 2020 draft. It proved to be a successful decision, as he shattered Derrick Henry's school record for career rushing yards (3,843) and showed scouts his best receiving season by far (43 catches). Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert were both on hand for Harris' pro day performance at Alabama, although his participation was limited.
Speed is among the questions NFL scouts had on Harris, one that Harris answers with tape only -- he did not run a 40-yard dash at either of Alabama's two pro day workouts. He entered his senior season with 387 carries and a career-long rush of just 35 yards, but extended that mark to 53 yards on what might've been the most spectacular run of his career, on which he hurdled a Notre Dame defender in a College Football Playoff semifinal in January.