If the Steelers insisted on drafting a RB in 2021, they took the wrong one
The Pittsburgh Steelers had their choice of running backs in the 2021 NFL Draft, but it’s becoming clear that Najee Harris wasn’t the right choice.
I have never been an advocate for taking running backs in the first round of the NFL Draft. In recent years, there is more evidence than ever suggesting that this isn’t a good idea and that analytics back that up. Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers were under the impression that taking a running back in the first round was going to solve all of their rushing roes. Needless to say, it did not.
However, Pittsburgh’s decision to take Najee Harris in the first round goes beyond overestimating the value of the running back position; they also misevaluated the talent.
I know that many fans and analysts thought that Harris was going to be a can’t-miss pick and so they justified taking him in the first round. I did not. In fact, Najee was the 38th overall player on my final 2021 big board. Considering the Steelers were selected at pick 24, this was terrible value — especially when you factor in the taking a position of minor importance.
If Steelers insisted on RB, they should have taken Etienne
If the Steelers were dead set on taking a running back in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, I would argue that they took the wrong player. The guy that would have made a bigger impact is Travis Etienne — who was ultimately selected just one pick after the Steelers to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This is not just hindsight either. On my final draft board, I had Etienne slotted as my 29th overall player — much closer to where the Steelers were selecting. I wasn’t doing this to try to be controversial; I genuinely believed that Etienne was the better football player. Looking at the two of these players now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise as to why.
In addition to being younger coming out of college, Etienne was significantly more efficient with his touches — averaging over a yard more per carry and nearly two yards more per reception. But this isn’t what attracted me to him.
The biggest difference between Etienne and Harris is the ability to create explosive plays. While Etienne did this at an outstanding level, Najee’s explosive play rate was concerning, and it was easy to see that he lacked the extra gear to make him an explosive runner at the next level.
After suffering an ACL injury that forced him to miss his entire rookie season, Etienne has been one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL this year, according to Football Outsiders.
At the end of the day, I thought that Travis Etienne was a quicker, faster, more decisive running back with elite contact balance and the ability to gash teams as both a runner and a receiver. Really, the only thing Najee had on him was his size (which we are seeing in today’s game doesn’t matter all that much).
As good as Etienne could be, I still wouldn’t take him in a redraft. I would go with a different position entirely — a money position the team has ignored. However, if the Pittsburgh Steelers insisted on selecting a running back in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, I said at the time that they took the wrong one.