If Najee Harris slips to the Buccaneers at 32, is he the clear cut favorite to take?
Running back is a polarizing position when it comes to first round draft picks. On one hand, you get them for five years while (hopefully) helping solidify an offense with a player that can carry the ball, catch out of the backfield, and pick up blitzes to help protect your quarterback. On the other hand, you have a position that has devalued rapidly over the years, they don’t get any money in free agency – and if they do it typically isn’t from the team that drafted them – and you have a cycle of incoming backs placed into a rotation of other backs and coaches will “ride the hot hand.”
For Najee Harris, he is one of the most complete backs in the draft and can help the Bucs in a myriad of ways.
NAJEE HARRIS’ COLLEGIATE CAREER
A five-star recruit coming out of Antioch High School in California, Harris was heavily recruited by virtually every major program across the nation. After settling on Alabama, Harris was seldom used as a Freshman. By time he reached his Junior year, Harris was one of the top running backs in college football and only proved to solidify that during his Senior season.
Harris finished his career at Alabama with 3,843 yards on 638 carries (6.0 yards per carry) with 46 touchdowns – 26 of those coming in his Senior year. He also caught 80 passes for 781 yards and eleven touchdowns with 43 receptions, 425 yards, and four touchdowns his Senior year.
Overall, Harris averaged nearly 6.5 yards every time he touched the ball for Alabama and capped off his career with a stellar 158 total yard and three touchdown performance in the National Championship. In just 2020, he was awarded the Doak Walker award, was a Consensus All-American, led the SEC in rush attempts, yards, rushing touchdowns, plays from scrimmage, yards from scrimmage, touchdowns from scrimmage and points. He also led all of the NCAA in points, total touchdowns, yards, and rushing touchdowns.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 24, 2021
PRO DAY DATA AND ANALYSIS
Harris participated in drills on Alabama’s second pro day – after having driven nine hours to their first one strictly to support his teammates – but he did not run the 40-yard dash or any of the shuttle and cone drills.
Harris came in at 6’1 7/8” and 230 lbs., with an 81” wingspan, 33 3/8” arms, and 10” hands.
Though it was somewhat a rough day for teammate and fellow member of the 2021 NFL Draft class Mac Jones, Harris looked as smooth and fluid as you would expect. His routes out of the backfield were crisp, no issues with his hands, and he showed off a little of that speed he has.
He certainly didn’t do anything that would cause any level of concern from interested teams as to whether or not he should be a first round selection.
WHAT HE BRINGS IN 2021
Harris is immediately a three down back in the Buccaneers’ offense. He can run with speed and power, catch the ball, and create big plays. The problem is the crowded room the Bucs currently have. With Leonard Fournette back and Ronald Jones on the last year of his deal, it would be difficult for any of them to find a rhythm with as much as they would be sharing time.
But as many of these profiles point out, we also look to the future – which we’ll get to momentarily.
Harris has every tool and all the skill to become the “feature” guy by mid-season, depending on how quickly he can pick up the offense. His role early on would likely be that of a third down back in passing situations. With RoJo and Fournette taking their turns as the lead backs on particular drives, Harris could find his niche as the one to give a breather now and again and as the pass catcher of the bunch.
That said, it’s my belief that it wouldn’t take long before Harris usurped both of them to become the Bucs’ top guy.
Within three years, we could be talking about the next top running back in the NFL. Yes, he’s that good. When you find a player with the skill set that Harris has at the running back position, it’s those players that emerge as the “cream of the crop.” He’s every bit as good, agile, and versatile as Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey but shows power in his runs to get past the second and third levels of defense. Now, we aren’t talking Derrick Henry power, but power nonetheless.
In Bruce Arians/Byron Leftwich’s offense, Harris could become that weekly x-factor where the defense has to commit to stopping him as a runner, but he’s every bit as dangerous catching passes out of the backfield or splitting out wide. The possibilities are endless with Harris on the roster.
The Buccaneers haven’t had great luck drafting running backs over the last 10-15 years with RoJo finally appearing to break through as a reliable starter. But no one knows if he will even be back next season considering his contract is up after 2021. As for Fournette, he could leave for bigger money once the cap expands next year. Now the Bucs would be left with just KeShawn Vaughn as their lone running back. Finding a way to draft Harris and getting that cost-controlled fifth year option would be huge for the offense moving forward.
Harris truly could be a massive game changer for Tampa Bay.
We’ve seen Harris mocked to the Buccaneers a couple of times but as we inch closer to the draft, we see Harris inch further up the mocks. He could end up being a player selected anywhere from the mid-teens to the end of the first. The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to be the latest favorite destination of Harris among mock drafters.
It’s seems highly likely that Harris goes in round one. It would be pretty surprising if he doesn’t, but many believed Clyde Edwards-Helaire wouldn’t last as long as he did in the 2020 NFL Draft. The truth of the matter is running back is not a high priority position for a lot of teams in what is now a heavy passing league.
Teams look for star quarterbacks, star receivers, offensive linemen, and pass rushers early on. There are runs on these positions and running back seems to be left on the back burner too often. However, in a case like Harris or Clemson’s Travis Etienne, there are special players that come around and in spite of their position they get drafted where they deserve to.
ON THE CLOCK…
This is where Bucs Nation comes in. Taking a look at the roster, the fit, and the projections. Where do you value Alabama running back, Najee Harris?