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Countdown to 2021 fantasy football drafts: Najee Harris No. 16

The Steelers believe that Najee Harris, the first running back selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, can provide a boost while Ben Roethlisberger remains with the team and help guide the offense into the next era.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris (22) runs off the field after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.  Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As the Pittsburgh Steelers near the end of the Ben Roethlisberger era, they need to identify the core players that will take them into the next chapter of the franchise’s illustrious history. The team hopes that 2021 first-round pick, running back Najee Harris, can develop into one of those cornerstone pieces.

To commemorate the 2021 NFL season, we will count down the 75 best fantasy players in the NFL. Picking a Top 75 requires subjective analysis — especially when projecting a whole season of accumulated fantasy points — but therein lies the fun. We will assume an average league, which is 12 teams, .5 PPR scoring, and a roster of 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, & 1RB/WR/TE. Kickers and defenses need not apply.

Change is the nature of the NFL beast, so trades and injuries will likely impact this list as it unfolds. But, of course, this isn’t rocket science. We’re here to have a little fun and build up some much-needed anticipation for a league cast in the shadow by baseball, soccer, hockey, etc. Sarcasm aside, the NFL is addictive and we’re here to give your daily fix as we close in on the season.

The official fantasy football drafting tiers can be found here.

No. 16, Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers, RB

Harris comes into the NFL with one of the finer pedigrees of any recent running back. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound playmaker improved each year with the Alabama Crimson Tide, capping off his college career by recording 1,891 yards from scrimmage and 30 touchdowns during his final season. Harris’ build might suggest a pure power game, but he possesses refinement as a pass catcher as well. The Steelers believe that versatility makes him a fit for both their vision for the offense in 2021 and in the post-Roethlisberger era.

Competition for touches

While the Steelers have invested mid-round picks into the position in each of the previous three drafts, none of those running backs seem like serious threats to Harris’ place as the alpha in the backfield. Benny Snell will probably still see some touches each week and the coaching staff might cut out a role for scatback Anthony McFarland Jr., but Harris should see the vast majority of work. As long as he remains healthy, the ball will end up in his hands.

Offensive expectations

The Steelers offense has undergone a transition this offseason, moving from the static pre-snap approach of former offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner to the motion-heavy system of recently promoted Matt Canada. Those changes will dramatically affect the passing game and could take time to settle, which could mean the ground attack moves into center stage early in the season. The investment in Harris — along with Roethlisberger’s decline — might further accentuate the reconfigured approach.

Player’s upside

If Harris grows comfortable with the Steelers’ playbook early in the process, he could become an every-down tailback at a time when few such players remain. That could mean, among other things, no shortage of touches in the red zone regardless of game situation.

Player’s downside

In addition to salvaging whatever Roethlisberger has left in the tank, the Steelers will break in an almost entirely new offensive line. Several of the presumed starters have either seen little NFL action at their current positions (Chukwuma Okorafor) or just arrived from college (Kendrick Green), and the growing pains could short-circuit the ground attack for a time. Harris might meet a lot of contact in the backfield while the O-line gels.

Projection

1,250 rushing yards, 45 receptions, 400 receiving yards, 13 total touchdowns