Alabama Running Back Najee Harris has First-Round Talent, But is he a First-Round Draft Pick?

A number of factor are working in favor of Najee Harris, but not many teams are likely to draft a running back in the first round
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to former Alabama running back Najee Harris, there are no red flags in regard to the 2021 NFL Draft. 

There are no injury issues. No alarming statistics. No character concerns. 

A year ago, the Crimson Tide's all-time rushing leader, and all-time leader in total touchdowns, returned for his senior season to both improve his game and his draft stock. 

He was immensely successful in both regards. 

But that still doesn't make him a lock to be a first-round selection next month. 

"I always hesitate to predict where a player is going to get drafted because there’s so much fluidity on draft day," Sports Illustrated analyst and former head coach Jim Mora Jr. said. "I absolutely agree that he’s a first-round talent. He’s got it all. He’s got size, he’s got speed. He can block. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he’s a great screen runner.

"I’d take him. I’d want him on my team."

The biggest obstacle for Harris to navigate is probably one he can't hurdle, his position. For years, the draft value of running backs has been on the decline as teams know they can often find a quality player beyond the first round. 

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is among those who believes teams should almost never use its initial pick on a running back, a philosophy he's had for years. 

However, he does have Harris listed as the best player at the position, ahead of Clemson’s Travis Etienne and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams.

“If JK 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. 

The three prospects stand out from the rest of the field, which could help bring them down collectively as well. 

NFL Draft Bible has each rated as second-round selections, and Williams has been labeled a rising prospect as more evaluators due their homework and film study.  

“The next time I update [my lists] I am probably going to have Javonte Williams from North Carolina over Harris,” Jeremiah Daniel of the NFL Network said. “He is a really good player."

But Harris has three things going for him. 

1) He's a bigger, and more physical back

Listed as roughly 230 pounds, Harris because more of an inside runner this past season, which will appeal to some teams. 

During his first three years at Alabama, Harris thought of himself as an outside back. This last season he hit the holes better between the tackles en route to winning the Doak Walker Award and named a unanimous All-American.

2) He's the most complete back

This isn't a knock on the other two, especially since Ettiene was playing behind an inexperienced line this past season.

Harris totaled 3,843 career rushing yards to rank atop the Alabama all-time list, and 4,624 all-purpose yards. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry and is Alabama's career leader for rushing scores with 46 (compared to 57 overall), surpassing the previous record of 42 by Mark Ingram II and Derrick Henry .

He's just as adept catching passes out of the backfield and picking up blitzers — which the size advantage only helps. He makes adjustments well and over his career only had one lost fumble. 

3) The intangibles 

This is what may set Harris apart with some teams, especially with there being no combine and limited access all year.

"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," Jeremiah said. 

Harris was named to the SEC Community Service Team and  was a finalist for the Jason Witten Man of the Year. It's presented annually to the Division I college football player who has "demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field."

He's the kind of player who teams can immediately pencil in as a starter and then not have to worry about. 

"I love his infectious personality," Mora said. "I love his character. I love the fact that he stayed at Alabama. I’ve known him for so long, he’s a prince of a person. He’s overcome a lot of obstacles in his life to get where he is and I think he has the heart and the intestinal fortitude to be a great player."

Teams to watch in the first round include the Bills, Cardinals Dolphins and Steelers.

NFL Draft Bible 

Most most drafts are on hold as pro days are under way across the nation. Alabama will hold its workout for NFL scouts and officials on Tuesday. 

Free agency is also having a tremendous impact on the draft. NFL Draft Bible is not only tracking signings but regularly updating team needs and roster construction.

Positional rankings

QB | RB | FB | WR | iWR | TE | LT | RT | OG | OC | DT | NG | 3-4 DE | 4-3 DE | 3-4 OLB | 4-3 OLB | ILB | CB | iCB | FS | SS

2021 NFL Draft order

No., Team, Record

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars 1-15
  2. New York Jets 2-14
  3. Miami Dolphins (via 4-12 Houston Texans)
  4. Atlanta Falcons 4-12
  5. Cincinnati Bengals 4-11-1
  6. Philadelphia Eagles 4-11-1
  7. Detroit Lions 5-11
  8. Carolina Panthers 5-11
  9. Denver Broncos 5-11
  10. Dallas Cowboys 6-10
  11. New York Giants 6-10
  12. San Francisco 49ers 6-10
  13. Los Angeles Chargers 7-9
  14. Minnesota Vikings 7-9
  15. New England Patriots 7-9
  16. Arizona Cardinals 8-8
  17. Las Vegas Raiders 8-8
  18. Miami Dolphins 10-6
  19. Washington Football Team 7-9
  20. Chicago Bears 8-8
  21. Indianapolis Colts 11-5
  22. Tennessee Titans 11-5
  23. New York Jets (via 12-4 Seattle Seahawks)
  24. Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4
  25. Jacksonville Jaguars (via 10-6 Los Angeles Rams)
  26. Cleveland Browns 11-5
  27. Baltimore Ravens 11-5
  28. New Orleans Saints 12-4
  29. Green Bay Packers 13-3
  30. Buffalo Bills 13-3
  31. Kansas City Chiefs 14-2
  32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5

This story will be regularly updated up to the 2021 NFL Draft

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