Each draft cycle presents itself as a unique opportunity for teams around the NFL to add young, talented players to their roster in hopes of finding their next franchise player. While teams around the league dive deep into each respective player before assembling their big board, fans and media alike contribute their own respective thoughts and opinions on the very same players teams will watch be selected through the NFL Draft.
As with every fanbase, those who cheer on the Pittsburgh Steelers are always ready to anoint a player as their selected draft crush, a player that must land in black and gold at all costs.
In 2019, that player was Michigan linebacker Devin Bush. As fate would have it, the Steelers would feel the same, ultimately moving up into the top ten and grabbing their inside linebacker of the future. That year was a rare instance where a fanbase and front office saw eye to eye on a positional need/value, as nearly every other pick in the past will have been met with some sort of debate or opposition.
2021's version of a consensus draft crush in Pittsburgh rests in the form of Alabama running back Najee Harris. Harris, who displayed himself as a do-it-all back in college, fits the mold as a three-down ball carrier at the next level and thus would be a great fit for many, if not all, organizations in search of one.
For a Steelers team that finished dead last (32nd) in rushing offense last season, a cause to fix their ground game is natural. The Steelers waved goodbye to three starting offensive linemen from 2020 and fired their offensive coordinator, yet general manager Kevin Colbert believes a fresh face in the running back room is of importance.
"I don't think you can ever underestimate the value of a quality player at any position, and running back is no different," said Colbert in a press conference on Monday. "I understand that the game has changed. It's a more horizontal game than it is a vertical game and people don't play traditional football as really Coach (Tomlin) and I grew up with with two-back sets and power games, and so on and so forth. It has changed.
"But if you have a dynamic player at any position, that player should make a difference. Running back is no different. I think if you look at the Hall of Fame runners, most of those guys were taken in high rounds. I don't ever place that value high or low on a given position. I base it on who the player is and what that player can do to help us."
There's no doubting a vast majority of Steelers fans have fallen head over heels for Harris, an admittedly great young player on and off the field. Harris matches the fit for Pittsburgh, and even prominent members of the media have told Harris (to his face) that he is all but set to become the first Steelers running back selected in the first-round since Rashard Mendenhall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Stephen A Smith to Harris on First Take:
Harris was also told on Adam Schefter's podcast by Schefter himself that he could see Harris being taken by the Steelers, while Pat McAfee carried the same sentiment when he interviewed Harris in February as well. There's no doubting a plethora of people, whether it be fans, media members or anybody in-between, have essentially assumed Harris will be the newest member of the Steelers in a similar fashion that Trevor Lawrence will be the newest member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, there's a chance Harris may not be up for grabs when the Steelers are on the clock.
The NFL Draft consistently ranks as one of the more unpredictable events known to man, and 2021's version looks to be no different. While there's not a strong chance that we see a running land extremely high such as Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliot, the odds of a running back landing in the first round currently sit at -300 per BetOnline.
While there are arguments to whether Harris or Clemson's Travis Etienne should be the first off the board, Harris appears to be the majority number one back across various insider's reporting.
When evaluating potential landing spots for Harris, two teams in particular stick out as potential road blocks for the Steelers drafting the Alabama product: The Miami Dolphins (picking at 18) and New York Jets (picking at 23). With both teams ranking in the bottom half of rushing offense, is a running back viable in either scenario?
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport says most teams believe Harris will be gone by pick number 24:
For the Jets, a team that just added Tevin Coleman, a first-round look at running back may not be a pressing need, especially when considering the team may be able to add the likes of Javonte Williams with pick number 34 in the second round. However, the prowess of a solidified ball-carrier such as Harris may be too good to pass up for the Jets to add for the next four to five years.
As for the Dolphins, the presence of Myles Gaskin may be enough to hold off first-round help in the running back stable. The Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly pegged Harris as the team's pick at number 18, while Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer said Harris has been connected to Miami as well.
Miami Dolphins beat writer Josh Houtz (@Houtz on Twitter) believes the decision isn't that simple, suggesting the Dolphins may pass on Harris when they're again on the clock:
"The Dolphins currently possess four top-50 draft picks, and the odds of the team using one of those on the running back position seems more likely now than ever before," said Houtz.
"But while most signs point to Najee Harris reuniting with Tua Tagovailoa in Miami, rumors out of Davie suggest the team could look at defense with the team's No.18 pick. You could make a case for both sides, but Miami has to walk away with one of the top backs in this class after last year's mishap. Could that be Najee Harris? That is anyone's guess. But I think when the smoke clears Chris Grier, and Brian Flores will pass on the opportunity to take Harris at 18–forcing them to wait patiently until day two to address the RB position."
While the actual pick of either team can be debated, the interest in adding a talented back such as Harris to their respective rosters can't be denied.
Should Najee Harris be available to the Steelers at pick number 24, there's a strong chance he will be the team's pick. However, Harris has garnered interest from running back-needing teams picking ahead of Pittsburgh, showing no guarantee that the Steelers will have the opportunity to select him.