The Pittsburgh Steelers clearly have an obvious replacement for James Conner when it comes to the NFL Draft
James Conner’s legacy in Pittsburgh was cemented well before he was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a Pitt Panther, he overcame Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma before becoming a third-round pick by the hometown crowd.
Four years later, he says goodbye to the Steel City.
Conner agreed to terms with the Arizona Cardinals on a one-year deal worth $1.75. Although he won’t be guaranteed the starting role, Conner is an upgrade over Chase Edmonds and brings the burly run game to the desert.
Alas, this creates a problem for the already woeful Steelers’ run game.
Conner was the lead back over the past three seasons with Le’Veon Bell’s departure. During that span, they’ve ranked 31st, 29th and 32nd in rushing yards and 31st, 20th and 28th in attempts.
Pittsburgh hasn’t had a 1,000-yard runner since 2017. Prior to that? Rashard Mendenhall in 2010. And while taking a running back in the first round is far from ideal, one option should be on the Steelers’ mind.
If available at No. 24, Alabama’s Najee Harris should be donning the black and yellow in 2021.
Harris fits the bruiser running-style in Pittsburgh
An overall decent running back class leaves value in Days 2 and 3 for Pittsburgh to grab a name on Friday night. They however won’t be selecting in Round 2 until the No. 55 pick, meaning Harris, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and UNC’s Javonte Williams would all be long gone.
Harris is more than just the one-trick pony most running backs are labeled. During his final season with the Crimson Tide, the California native showed speed, agility and vision when winning in the open field.
The kicker? His brute strength in the trenches.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 24, 2021
In a COVID-19 season that featured games against only SEC opponent, Harris outshined the likes of names like Trent Richardson, Shaun Alexander and even Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. Against some of college football’s best defense, Harris recorded 26 rushing touchdowns on his way to a national title.
The year prior, he recorded 13. Harris also averaged at least 5.8 yards per run.
Is the passing game not important to the Steelers? It’s the one thing keeping them in contention.
As a swing option in Steve Sarkisian’s system, Harris averaged over 9.3 yard per catch on at least 27 catches in a season. He also recorded 11 total touchdowns as a receiving option. Ben Roethlisberger is coming off a career-worst in 6.3 yards per throw, meaning he’s regressing as a passer.
The Steelers also have met with Harris, according to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly, during Alabama’s Pro Day.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) March 8, 2021
In a class loaded with talent at offensive tackle, cornerback and interior offensive line, Kevin Colbert can risk breaking the rule for the right runner when on the clock at No. 24. Knowing Pittsburgh’s past of downtrodden running has limited the offense, adding a plug-and-play running back will keep them alive in the AFC North.
Harris is that one and only plug-and-play runner.