3 reasons Steelers made the right call with Najee Harris in the first round
Lots of teams around the league have found top-tier running backs in mid rounds
The Steelers are not one of those teams. James Conner was their highest draft pick at RB since Le’Veon Bell was taken in the second round. Conner was taken in the 3rd. For whatever reason, the Steelers have had a hard time finding great talent at the position. I’m not saying they are bad at scouting or drafting players. Pittsburgh’s niche in the mid-rounds is at the WR position. They also tend to find good draft value out of offensive and defensive linemen in the middle rounds. Some teams just scout certain positions better, and the Steelers got a freebie with the top running back on most people’s draft boards.
Furthermore, the benefit to drafting a running back in the 1st round is the 5th year option. If the Steelers had the 5th year option available for Le’Veon Bell, 2018 would’ve been his first year on the franchise tag. Maybe that situation plays out a little differently, or maybe it doesn’t. However, having the 5th year option on a running back gives you the chance to have a better control of the salary cap situation especially if the runner could be worth top-tier money near the end of their rookie deal. Considering that Harris is probably the best running back in this class, he will likely be worth top-tier money in 4 years.
If by some miracle Harris fell to the Steelers in the second round, or they hit the jackpot on another running back, the Steelers only have 4 years before losing that player due to salary cap. For a team that will probably need a new quarterback within the next 2 years, having a featured runner locked down for up to 5 years is going to keep Pittsburgh’s offense viable. The team will be able to win without a franchise quarterback to at least some degree, with such an elite defense.