Former Alabama running back Najee Harris has a bone to pick with ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.
Actually, he does with anyone who questions his pass-catching abilities. It's been that way during his entire collegiate career.
For example, remember last December when Harris was asked if he had been trying to improve his receiving skills?
"I’ve been catching the ball since birth,” Harris responded. “What are you talking about, man? People don’t expect it because of the running back name. The slogan is, Can he catch? I’ve been catching the ball since I was in the fetus position."
For the most part, talent evaluators raved about Harris throughout the offseason, and project him as a possible first-round selection.
That includes McShay, who contends that Harris dramatically improved his draft stock by returning for his senior season.
"I was so impressed with the improvement that he made over the past year," McShay said. "He decided to come back, a lot of running backs don’t decide to do that. He came back and in Steve Sarkisian’s offense he caught the ball a lot better. He was good in pass protection.
"The biggest knock I had on him was when I studied him in the summer was for a 235-pound back he didn’t run like that. He kind of danced and always wanted to bounce things outside. And he didn’t do that this year. Really was more aggressive, was a North-South runner and just wanted to get up field and utilize his size and his strength."
For ESPN, McShay wrote: "Harris has excellent size and decent top-end speed. He was a much more decisive runner as a senior, showing oily hips for a big back and playing light on his feet. He gets in and out of breaks quickly, has excellent ball security and he’s a slippery runner between the tackles but he has acceleration limitations. Harris showed tremendous improvement as a pass-catcher in 2020 with a big catch radius and an ability to adjust to balls thrown outside his frame. He also shows good aggressiveness in pass pro."
When Harris appeared on Adam Schefter's podcast Monday, he responded to McShay's report by saying, "Todd McShay can kiss my ...." due to the part about improving as a pass-catcher.
His reasoning was that by not starting for two years he hadn't had many opportunities to catch passes before last season, and that the assessment was made more based on his stats than anything.
Harris chided ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. as well for the same reason, although Kiper has been much more outspoken about running backs as a whole and how some NFL teams won't use a first-round pick on the position anymore.
Nevertheless, Kiper does have Harris listed as the top running back in the draft, ahead of Clemson’s Travis Etienne and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams.
“If J.K. Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor can’t be first-round picks, I don’t think Travis Ettiene would be, but that’s just me," Kiper said.
Hometown: Antioch, Calif
• Alabama's rushing king, as 3,843 career yards tops the Alabama all-time list.
• His 4,624 all-purpose yards are second all-time at Alabama.
• The Crimson Tide's all-time leader for total touchdowns in a career with 57 (46 rushing, 11 receiving). Also Alabama's career leader for rushing scores with 46, surpassing the previous record of 42 by Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry.
• Averaged 6.0 yards per carry to rank third in Crimson Tide history (minimum 400 carries).
• 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).
• Named First-team All-SEC by both the AP and the league coaches.
• Named to the SEC Community Service Team.
• Was finalist for the Jason Witten Man of the Year award.
• As a senior, led the nation in total touchdowns (30) and rushing touchdowns (26) in addition to scoring (180). Finished second for single-season rushing scores by an Alabama back with 26 as a senior.
• Led the SEC and finished third in Division I for rushing yards at 1,466, plus had 43 receptions for 425 yards and four touchdowns during shortened 2020 season. The 1,891 all-purpose yards were the sixth most for a single season in Alabama history.
• 2020 SEC Championship Game MVP.
What they said ...
Zierlein, NFL.com: Plus-sized runner who elevated his game and draft stock with a well-rounded performance in 2020. Harris showed improved short-area creativity and elusiveness to go with his trademark physicality. Creates additional yardage with both wiggle and power, but he lacks desired top gear to change games in a flash. He handled a heavier lift in 2020, with almost 300 total touches in 13 games. Harris’ value as a third-down option out of the backfield and as a personal protector should not be underestimated after his performance in his senior year. His running style could shorten his career, but he’s a tough, three-down runner who can immediately upgrade a running game.
SI analyst Jim Mora Jr.: "He's unique. He's unique in terms of his character. He's unique in terms of his toughness, his speed, his ability to find the end zone. He's going to add value not only between the lines and the way he plays the game but he's going to add value to the organization. He’s a kid that’s going to be out in the community doing great things. He's going to be tremendous in the locker room, which is very important in terms of providing leadership. This kid is special. There's something about him that's different and you've seen it and I've seen it and every fan has seen it."
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network: "He has balance and can bang inside but can also get involved in the pass game. This kid kind of gives you a little bit of everything. He's 220 pounds but he has big time burst and he's got really good vision, and to me while you're starting to see him pop up more, he's my 32nd player as I mentioned he's going to continue to go up because everything I keep digging on and finding out from the school and finding out from guys that have been around him and coached him and played with him is the kid's wiring is off the charts. In a year where we don't maybe have as much information, when you get a kid who's got great tape, who's got high, weight, speed and now the character and the work ethic is off the charts, you bet on those kids."
Draft projection: Low first round/high second round.
This is the third in a series of Crimson Tide profiles for the 2021 NFL Draft