Najee Harris has been shooting up draft boards this season, and he is expected to be picked at the end of the first round.
Considering the lineage of great backs that Nick Saban has coached at Alabama, it should really raise some eyebrows when Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris placed himself near the top of that hypothetical list with a dominant 2020 season.
Harris came into Alabama’s Rose Bowl matchup against Notre Dame with 1,578 yards from scrimmage and an insane 27 total touchdowns, 24 of which came on the ground, in just 11 games. Given his 6-2, 230-pound frame and exceptional speed, one of these five teams could either pick him in the first round or trade up to get him.
These five teams need to take a long, hard look at drafting Harris high in the 2021 NFL Draft
Denver’s backfield of Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay seems like a perfect 1-2 punch in the backfield, especially with both under contract for next season. So, that takes them out of the Harris sweepstakes, right? Well, Drew Lock has regressed in his second season in the league, and the resurgence of Derek Carr paired with the emergence of Justin Herbert could force John Elway to tear it all down and start fresh at those two positions. If Denver decides to move off of Gordon, Harris could form a deadly tandem with Lindsay before taking over RB1 duties when Lindsay wants a payday.
Harris’ power and athletic ability will get him drafted in the first round or early second round, but he has taken steps to become a quality receiving back in Steve Sarkisian’s wide-open offense. That ability to fill both roles while standing out as a blocker could make Harris a perfect fit in Pat Shurmur’s offense that loves to go deep down the field. Harris, with or without Lock under center, looks like a player that could step right in and run for 1,000 yards with ease.
The Falcons brought in Todd Gurley with the hopes of both getting Gurley back to his All-Pro form and giving Matt Ryan a legit running back for the first time since Devonta Freeman’s excellent season during the Super Bowl run. While Gurley has had his moments, Atlanta is once again at the bottom of the league in rushing, and the lack of balance has come back to bite them in the butt when they’ve tried to hold on to leads. With Ryan getting up there in age, the Falcons need a bell cow that can carry the ball 20 times a game, and Harris makes a lot of sense for them right now.
Even if Koetter is not retained, you can bet that Atlanta will have a pass-happy attack next season. Harris will be the perfect counterbalance to the aerial circus that Ryan will orchestrate, as he can prevent defenses from putting six defensive backs on the field frequently by pounding it up the middle behind Alex Mack and Chris Lindstrom. For the first time since the Michael Turner days, the Falcons would have a deadly running attack spearheaded by a future star in Harris.
The Jets need help at essentially every position right now, but running back remains one of the biggest holes on this roster. Frank Gore’s NFL career appears all but over, and La’Mical Perine looks more like a solid backup power back than a franchise back who can be counted on for the next half-decade. The Jets have the No. 2 pick in the draft, but the Jamal Adams trade with the Seattle Seahawks netted them a first-round pick that will likely be somewhere in the mid 20s. With Harris still potentially available in that range, the Jets could pounce on getting a hypothetical quarterback picked second overall a new running back.
The Jets will either stick with Sam Darnold for one more season at quarterback or pick someone like Zach Wilson or Justin Fields at No. 2. Regardless of which direction they go, the running game needs a major boost, especially after the stench of Adam Gase negated almost all big plays. Harris is more than just a short-yardage sledgehammer, as his breakaway speed has his draft stock soaring high, but so high that he’s escaped the Jets should he end up within striking distance.