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Log into any social media site or Google Najee Harris and draft rankings, and you’ll find Harris comfortably sitting atop (if not top three) many analysts' running back rankings. Whether discussing skill set or production resume, there are several reasons to love what Najee Harris brings to the table. Let’s dissect a talented runner that could hear his name called on Day 1 of the NFL Draft and what this could mean for us in fantasy football.
Najee Harris arrived at Alabama as a highly touted five-star recruit and the top running back in the 2017 high school recruiting class, per 247 sports. After two years of splitting work with Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs, Harris spent the last two seasons claiming the Alabama backfield as his own. Since 2019, Harris proved he could withstand a heavy workload with 19 or more touches in 57.6% of his games. While Harris is not the shiftiest in this class, he has shown he's no trudging slug over the last two seasons. In 2019-2020 among rushers with 125 or more carries, Harris ranked 38th (out of 124) and 23rd (out of 56) in yards after contact per attempt with 3.57 and 3.26.
Harris' college production is not a product of running behind a consistently elite offensive line. The Alabama offensive line played extremely well in 2020, ranking 14th in line yards, fifth in power success rate, and 12th in stuff rate per Football Outsiders. In 2019, the Alabama line was still good, but not to the level of 2020. In 2019, they ranked 21st in line yards, 33rd in power success rate, and 49th in stuff rate. His 2019 and 2020 overall stat lines and per-rush efficiency stayed consistent despite the disparity in line play.
Harris also proved this past season that he can be a trusted asset in this passing game. Harris ran the second-most routes (296) and garnered the most targets (53) among all collegiate running backs.
- Three down workhorse
- Scheme versatility
- Short area quickness
- Pass catching
Harris performed at the highest level flashing the ability to excel in various rushing schemes. In 2020, Harris led all running backs in gap rushing attempts (51%) this past season while also operating in a system with zone concepts. Harris was at his finest when getting downhill quickly and into the second-level.
While Harris’s raw speed will be in question, his vision helps him compensate for the lack of elite juice when trying to get to the edge. Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing 230 pounds, Harris moves in traffic like a back sitting at 205. A common player comp for Harris has been Matt Forte. While Harris likely won’t log a 4.4 40 yard dash like Forte, he does possess a similar ability to bob and weave between defenders while running up the middle. Harris has the decisiveness and nimble feet to overcome average line play at the next level.
Harris commanded an 89th percentile target share (13.4%) in 2020 and dropped only one pass. The jump in pass game involvement from 2019 to 2020 could have been due to Jaylen Waddle’s injury, but Harris didn’t falter with the increased reps. A player at his size with soft hands coming out of the backfield will be a welcome check-down target in the NFL.
- Long speed
- Pass protection
Najee Harris won’t wow you with 80-yard touchdown runs, and if you’re waiting for those highlight-reel runs, you’ve come to the wrong place. Harris might not possess this home run ability, but he is a back that can consistently rattle off 10, 15 and 20-yard chunk runs.
Harris is a well-rounded prospect deserving of the hype and praise that he is bound to receive this draft season. If there is any glaring area of his game that warrants concern, it could be his pass blocking skills. In 2020, on 42 pass-blocking snaps, Harris allowed four quarterback hurries and five pressures. This worry is mitigated in a perfect world with him running routes on most third downs and not hanging out in the backfield to block. We don’t live in a perfect world and can’t assume rational coaching. This ding in his armor could limit his third down or passing down snaps in the early going or depending landing spot.
Harris could hear his name called at the end of the first round or at the top of the second round. The spots that make the most sense are the Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons. In addition to the third overall pick, Miami has the 18th overall pick and pick 35 at the top of the second round. Myles Gaskin played extremely well last season, but Harris is a foundational type runner who can help Tua Tagovailoa as a trusted underneath option. The Steelers are low on cap space and high on the need for a difference-making runner. Last season, Pittsburgh ranked 32nd in adjusted line yards and 31st in second-level yards. James Conner and his 24th ranking in yards created per touch didn’t do them any favors. The Falcons could be the perfect fit for Harris should he last long enough. Arthur Smith would be licking his chops to get a runner with his ability to play in the passing game. No, this is not a lazy Derrick Henry and Alabama crayon line drawing. The Falcons will be a play-action-heavy scheme this year under Smith. Harris’s ability to garner 20 touches on the ground and excel through the air would be a perfect match. Any of these draft capital and landing spot marriages offer Najee Harris top-15 potential at his position in fantasy football in 2021.