With the surprise re-signing of Pro Bowler Aaron Jones and the promise of A.J. Dillon, the Green Bay Packers are set atop the running back depth chart. However, given the violence of the position, a quality third option is practically a necessity.
Alabama’s Najee Harris is our No. 1-ranked running back.
Najee Harris is, to put it simply, a productive running back.
At Antioch High School, Harris rushed for the fourth-most yards in California history. At Alabama, Harris rushed for the most yards in school history.
His path from Antioch to likely first-round draft pick is one of triumph and beating the odds. On a 1-to-100 scale, with 100 being the safest, Antioch ranks only a 10.
Harris, however, was untouchable.
“I knew this individual. He's no longer with us, one of the big honchos out there," Marcus Malu, Harris' personal trainer since his freshman year of high school, told CBSSports.com. "He pulled up on Najee one night. ‘You Najee Harris?’ He said, ‘Uh, yeah.’”
Harris was worried, but only for a moment.
“‘Just going to let you know, nobody's going to touch you,” Malu recalled.
“When the 'hood knows there's somebody who has a chance to get out,” Malu said, “they look after you. The incident Najee had with that gentleman, he was able to get a pass.”
Harris was the top recruit in the country, a fact that made him the “one bright light” in a challenged city. That fact made him a celebrity.
“People know where I live, so they just come to my house and knock on the door,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle when he was 18. “Random people ... I don’t care if it’s little kids, but adults? That’s kind of crazy. I’m like, ‘What the hell?’”
The danger wasn’t only in the streets. It was at home. The family bounced around the Bay Area during Najee’s childhood. His father, Curt, was verbally and physically abusive, Najee’s mom, Tianna, told 247 Sports.
Before Harris entered kindergarten, the family moved to Seattle.
“Up there, (Najee’s) anger was still happening,” Tianna told 247. “They had mentor programs with other men, positive black men, he could see doing the right things. … Being at home wasn’t safe, and there was some abuse going on when I wasn’t there. The best thing I thought was to put them in an after-school program until I could get home.”
That meant football and the rise to stardom that led him to Alabama.
Biding his time in a backfield that included former first-round pick Josh Jacobs, Harris showed his immense potential by rushing for 783 yards as a sophomore. As a junior, he rumbled for 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns. Given the limited shelf life for a running back, Harris could have entered the draft last year. Instead, he came back for his senior year and rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns while adding 43 receptions for 425 yards and four more scores.
“There was a lot of speculation about I wasn’t good at certain things,” Harris told SEC Network late in the season. “They said I can’t catch, the said I can’t pass block, I can’t make defenders miss, I can’t break a long run. They said I’m not elusive in a way, I’m not a third-down threat. I’m just like, ‘have y’all seen the film? What y’all talking about?’”
According to Pro Football Focus, Harris ranked second in the nation in missed tackles forced, third in yards after contact and seventh in carries of 15-plus yards.
Tough battles on the Tide’s star-studded practice fields got him ready for Saturdays, and will have him ready for Sundays.
“My decision, ultimately, going there was — shoutout to Saban, but it has nothing to do with Saban. It was really the competition that attracted me,” Harris said on the Pat McAfee Show. “Competing against the No. 1 running back, the No. 1 linebacker, the No. 1 safety, No. 1 defensive end, like the No. 1 anything at every position, it helps me get better every day. You know the saying, ‘Iron sharpens iron,’ so just the competition there alone at practice is like, sometimes it would be harder than the game. It was crazy.”
Measureables: 6-foot-1 7/8, 230 pounds with 10-inch hands at the Senior Bowl.
Stats and accolades: Harris is Alabama's career leader for rushing scores with 46, surpassing the previous record of 42 by Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry. His 3,843 career rushing yards also is a school record, toppling Henry’s 3,591 yards. His 4,624 yards from scrimmage beat Shaun Alexander’s mark of 4,363. For his career, he caught 80 passes, with 70 of those the past two seasons. As a senior, he was a unanimous first-team All-American and winner of the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
NFL Draft Bible says: Harris shows great ability to plow through initial contact and drag defenders along for a ride. He also demonstrates tremendous balance, jump cuts and does show the propensity to want to hurdle defenders. His natural instincts allow for a good feel on distance and angles. Perhaps one of his best traits is his ability as a receiver with ideal ball skills, terrific coordination/body control and outstanding leaping ability to go for jump balls.
About This Series
Packer Central is introducing you to the top prospects, both on and off the field, in this year’s NFL Draft. The series is starting with the top five at each position, then will add additional players as the draft approaches, with a focus on positions of need.