During his heyday with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Le’Veon Bell would play all over the field, and was incredibly dangerous split out wide as a receiver. The team used a first-round pick on Alabama running back Najee Harris, and clearly hopes for him to fill a similar role.
Drafting a running back in the first round is generally considered a risk, or something reserved for true Super Bowl contenders. The Steelers are clearly making a title push here in the final few years with Ben Roethlisberger under center. If Harris can do damage all over the field as a weapon, it certainly adds to his versatility and value. He says that is exactly the plan under Mike Tomlin and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
“[One thing] that’s similar is probably how they’re going to, I guess, line me up out wide and stuff like that how I did in college — utilize the running back in the passing game out wide, in the slot, all the way out to the ‘X’ position,” Harris told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, adding that he’ll be used “everywhere.”
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian liked to split Harris out wide at times last season, and he did plenty of damage on the perimeter. In the SEC championship, he had five catches for 67 yards and three touchdowns against the Florida Gators, finishing with 245 total yards from scrimmage and five scores.
Not sure why there is a ruckus about Najee Harris showing receiver looks for PIT. He’s capable just as Le’Veon Bell was. Runs a short curl, recognizes the zone coverage and finds a soft spot. https://t.co/5HOQoTR87s pic.twitter.com/3b3t4TTGt5
— Eric Robinson (@_Eric_Robinson) May 16, 2021
This is similar to the news out of the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Urban Meyer recently said that his first-round running back Travis Etienne would be focused on learning wide receiver during minicamp. That announcement raised some eyebrows, though it makes sense to crosstrain backs if possible.
We’ve seen plenty of clips of Najee Harris getting work out of the backfield for the Steelers so far in camp, so that is definitely still his bread and butter. If the team can shift him out wide and go empty backfield, and he’s a Bell-like threat on the outside, that goes a long way towards making his first-round selection worth it.
Najee Harris had a spectacular senior season at Alabama, rushing for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns, and added 43 catches for 425 yards and four scores through the air. He had seven receiving touchdowns as a junior as well.