Analyzing the Najee Harris Debate at 18

The Miami Dolphins will be tempted to select running back Najee Harris with the second first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, but would it be the right move?
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The Miami Dolphins are looking to the 2021 NFL draft to find some of the missing pieces as they continue to build a roster capable of competing for a playoff spot or even a championship on a yearly basis.

One of those missing pieces certainly would appear to be a difference-making running back, which is why some mock drafts have projected the Dolphins to select Najee Harris with the 18th overall selection.

It's a move that certainly would make sense on the surface, but isn't quite the slam dunk once you dig into the pros and cons.

Let's start with the pros, and the most obvious argument for drafting Harris, which is his all-around game.

Harris is one of three elite running back prospects in the 2021 draft, along with Travis Etienne of Clemson and Javonte Williams of North Carolina.

While Etienne is the home-run threat with the ability to go the distance on any play and Williams is the tackle-breaking machine, Harris is a mix of the two and maybe a better pass catcher than either.

Harris also has great intangibles, most recently evidenced when he drove overnight to attend the Alabama Pro Day to support his teammates even though he wouldn't participate in the workouts.

This matches what former NFL and college head coach Jim Mora Jr. when he recruited Harris for UCLA.

"He's unique," Mora said. "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."

Here's something else to keep in mind that perhaps would make the Dolphins consider drafting Harris at 18: FOMO.

For those not familiar with the term, it stands for Fear Of Missing Out.

That's kind of what happened last year with the Dolphins and the running back position when the Dolphins missed out on the top six running back prospects before they all were gobbled up in the first two rounds of the draft.

Mind you, this was by choice because the Dolphins had their pick of any of the six when they made the 30th overall selection and took Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene, a raw but talented prospect who contributed little as a rookie.

One year later, the jury is still out on Igbinoghene's long-term prospects in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the six running backs taken in the first two rounds — Clyde Edwards-Helaire, D'Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, J.K. Dobbins and A.J. Dillon — all had flashes of brilliance as rookies and all look like legitimate NFL running backs.

The Dolphins did sign Malcolm Brown as a free agent from the Rams in the offseason to join young backs Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, but all three look more like complementary players and it's entirely possible the organization isn't going to want to pass up the opportunity to get a feature back.

Look at it this way: If the Dolphins are going to take Ja'Marr Chase sixth overall despite having a lot of wide receivers because they don't have a bona fide No. 1 guy, wouldn't it be the same deal with the running backs and taking Harris at 18?

But then there's the flip side, and it starts with positional value.

This is not a new argument, but it's one that bears repeating.

Teams simply won't get as much mileage out of a running back than players at just about every other position, so why spend a premium pick on one of those guys?

Here's the evidence: There have been 10 running backs taken in the first round since 2015 and those 10 are Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Sony Michel, Rashaad Penny, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Edwards-Helaire.

Three of them (Gordon, Gurley, Fournette) already are on their second team, McCaffrey and Barkley played a combined five games last year, and Penny has yet to start a game in the NFL.

Meanwhile, eight running backs rushed for 1,000 yards or more last season, and only one (Jacobs) was a first-round pick. Another was Jacksonville rookie James Robinson, who actually wasn't drafted at all.

Here's the other factor to consider: Not everybody is convinced that Harris is even the top running back in the class.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, who previously worked as a scout, has Etienne as his top running back, as does CBSSports.com.

If the Dolphins end up selecting a running back at 18, Harris certainly would make more sense given that he's more complete than Etienne, but the Dolphins just as easily might be able to land Williams in the second round (at 36) and use that 18th overall pick on a different position.

As with the sixth pick, it's going to come down to who the Dolphins feel is the best prospect looking ahead. But it says here that 18 is too high for a running back unless that running back is generational — to use the popular term.

Harris is a great prospect, but he's not generational.

"I think 18 maybe is a little rich," Mora said. "I think a lot of people think he's going to go to Pittsburgh where he kind of can pound up in there, at 24, but I'll tell you this, if the Miami Dolphins take Najee at 18, if I was a Dolphins fan, I'd be excited about it."