Analyzing 2021 First Round Pick Najee Harris - The "Factorback"





The word 'quit' has rarely been a part of Najee Harris vocabulary.


His entire life was a constant routine of overcoming some of the worst conditions a human being can face.


Believe it or not, Harris thought about leaving the Alabama program; this came shortly after winning the National Championship against Georgia in his freshman year, one which he said was "mentally Challenging".


Well, Harris never left Alabama. When came back for his sophomore year, he was physically and mentally stronger that he was in his freshman year. From that point onwards, Harris not only thrived but he eventually evolved into one of the top players in the nation.


That year, Harris emerged as the team's second leading rusher behind teammate and future New England Patriot running back Damien Harris. In addition to collecting 783 rushing yards, he led the team with 6.7 yards per carry.


In his junior year, Harris broke out in a big way, as he earned honorable mention All-America honors from Pro Football Focus and named All-SEC second team. He led his team in rushing yards with 1,224 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Harris also developed into one of the top receiving backs in the nation, as he collected 304 yards on just 27 receptions. His seven receiving touchdowns were the most by a Crimson Tide running back in program history. Even with all this success and the option of entering the 2020 NFL Draft, Harris decided to return for his senior year, where he took his game to a whole new level.


After finishing the season with 1,891 all-purpose yards and 30 total touchdowns, Harris made his mark in the National Championship playoffs, with historic performances against Notre Dame and against Ohio State. By the time Harris left Alabama, he was their all-time leader in rushing yards (3,843), touchdowns (52), and total scrimmage yards (4,624).


What you will see in this film study, is a dynamic, multi-dimensional player, who possesses a rare combination of athleticism, power, and finesse; in addition to having the type of football acumen that sets him apart from all the running backs in this year's draft. The term coined by author and former Steelers running back Merril Hoge, to describe a running back of this nature is "factorback".



Dynamic Playmaking Abilities


It has been a long time since the Steelers have had a running back capable of dynamic, game-changing plays. During this junior and senior year with Alabama, Harris has build a catalogue of incredible athletic feats, and plays which are rarely seen in players his size (6'2, 231 lbs.


This particular sequence in many ways, exemplifies Harris' elite-level playmaking abilities.


Alabama is showing a '11' personnel package in an unbalanced line formation. The notable elements in Notre Dame's alignment are two edge rushers on the left side; one in 5-technique and the other in 7-technique. When the ball is snapped, both the center and the right guard pull from their spots. The guard does a good job the edge rusher (#33) out of the play, while the center leads the way for Harris.


What should have been a routine Power sequence, is interrupted when the Crimson Tide right guard (#73) is pushed back into Harris, resulting a near-broken play. Yet, Harris had the presence of mind to bounce outside to find more room. Notice how the delay afforded the Fighting Irish safety enough time to come downhill and make a stop on Harris. What happens next, is one of the best plays you will ever see from a running back at any level.


Patience and Vision


If there are two attributes in a running back that cannot be coached, they would be patience and vision. Both these notes aspects were the foundation of former Steelers All-Pro running back Le'veon Bell's success during his prime years in the NFL. When viewing Harris on film, it becomes clear that he was blessed with these aforementioned attributes.


In this example, Harris is seen positioned behind Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in eye formation. When the ball is snapped, the Crimson Tide offensive line begins their zone blocking sequence; Harris, makes his way to the 'C' gap. Within a few second, the Ole Miss linebackers do a good job filling in the gap and eventually closing it. Harris delays a few seconds, then shifts into the 'D' gap, while patiently following his blocks. Once an opening is presented, Harris scrambles through the gap and gains a hard -fought first down.


Power With Finesse


In this sequence against South Carolina, Harris is positioned on the right side of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. From this, one can assess that Harris will either be pass protecting or route running. When the ball is snapped, Harris runs to the opening and executes a crossing route in the middle of the field. He receives the ball, then turns upfield where he's met by a Gamecocks defender who he shrugs off with ease. As continues upfield, he hurdles over the oncoming defensive back, and outruns two other defenders before making it into the end zone. It is these types of highlight-worthy plays, Harris was doing routinely in almost each game he played throughout his collegiate career.




For weeks leading into this year's NFL Draft, the idea of investing in a running back in the first round, was scrutinized by Draft pundits and members of the Steelers fan base alike. What needs to be acknowledged is that running backs like Harris do not come often during a Draft year; when they do, it only seems logical to take advantage of that opportunity. The Steelers run offense has been sitting at the lower end of the spectrum for a few seasons. Harris' presence should help elevate their run offense, and create problems for opposing defenses for years to come.

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