Are Kevin Colbert, Steelers wrong in reasoning for taking Najee Harris?

General Manager Kevin Colbert of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
General Manager Kevin Colbert of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

Kevin Colbert is not worried about what analytics have to say. Here’s why the Steelers took Najee Harris in the first round. 

If you have been listening to Kevin Colbert’s press conferences this offseason, then you already know that he’s a general manager who doesn’t care what anyone else has to say. When it comes to the NFL Draft, Colbert has been one of the best in the business at stringing together competitive rosters, despite having a low draft position year after year.

When considering the rankings on draft boards from respectable NFL experts or the science behind avoiding certain positions with elite draft capital, Colbert doesn’t have the time of day for it. Recently, the Steelers general manager was on SiriusXM NFL Radio where he was asked about his decision to select running back, Najee Harris, with his first-round pick in the NFL. Here’s what he had to say:

"“A great player is a great player, regardless of the position. You know, we can look at all that data and so on and so forth… I’ve said it before, you know, I’ve been around two Hall of Fame runners and they were both first-round picks in Jerome Bettis and Barry Sanders and I know they helped us win a lot of games. In Jerome’s case, he helped us win the Super Bowl. So we don’t buy into that at all. I guess there is arguments for it, but again, we’re going to look at the player.”"

There are both good and bad things about Kevin Colbert not conforming to “group think.” On one hand, he won’t get too caught up in trends that fizzle out or get too infatuated with a player who has been talked up by the media. On the other, Colbert is admitting to neglecting scientific data in a rapidly-changing NFL game. This should make us stop and ask: which is more dangerous?

Did the Steelers make the right choice with Najee Harris?

I don’t think there is one analyst out there denying that Najee Harris is a good football player. I have no doubt that he will have a very productive stretch with the Steelers. As a prospect, he’s certainly better than Le’Veon Bell coming out of Michigan State, and there is already enough reason to believe that he could go down as one of Pittsburgh’s all-time great running backs before ever even setting foot on the NFL stage.

But despite what he brings to the table, Najee Harris is still a running back, and the science just doesn’t support using a first-round pick on a position that is less important than ever in today’s NFL.

It’s no secret that running backs have a shorter shelf life than any other position in the league. This is no doubt caused by the continual beating their bodies take, week in and week out. Not only do they wear down faster than players at any other position, but they also get injured more often. We saw this with Le’Veon Bell. Despite having almost an identical ‘workhorse’ frame as Harris, Bell gave the Steelers just three good years, as one year of his rookie contract was lost to an ACL tear.

Much is the same for running backs around the league. Regardless of where they were drafted, they just don’t last long and their time on top is very brief.

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It’s true that Kevin Colbert was around some Hall of Fame running backs in Jerome Bettis and Barry Sanders, but this isn’t the 1990s anymore, and Colbert of all people should understand that. Najee Harris is a very good running back prospect, and he has the potential to be one of the top backs in the league. But at the end of the day, there still is just not enough evidence to support taking a running back in the first round – regardless of the caliber of prospect.