Should the Broncos spend a 1st round pick on RB Najee Harris?

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris (22) rushes upfield toward Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Pete Werner (20) during the second quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Jan. 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris (22) rushes upfield toward Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Pete Werner (20) during the second quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY Sports

Najee Harris played high school football at Antioch High School in Antioch, California. His productivity at this level launched him to stardom making him one of the most highly sought-after players in the country and was even ranked No.1 by Rivals.

Harris was recruited by numerous high-powered collegiate programs including Ohio State, USC, Michigan, and Notre Dame but eventually committed to perennial powerhouse Alabama.

Though his touches were limited in his freshman year his talent was evident, which paved the way for a breakout sophomore campaign where he averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Then backfield mates Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough entered the NFL in 2019, allowing Najee Harris to become the lead back for the Crimson Tide.

Harris carried the ball for 1,224 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns his junior year and could have entered the NFL Draft, but surprisingly decided to return to Tuscaloosa for his senior year instead.

The gamble ended up paying off.

In his senior campaign, Harris added another 1,466 yards rushing and 26 rushing touchdowns as well as an additional 425 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. Maybe the most impressive stat of his college career is the number of times he has coughed up the rock: zero.

The Denver Broncos will surely be looking to improve their running back room in this draft and Harris appears to be the top back.

Melvin Gordon should be the lead back for Denver right now, but the offseason loss of fan-favorite Phillip Lindsay leaves a gap in talent between the starters and the depth.

Mike Boone was an offseason acquisition to bolster that position group, but Boone has never shouldered more than 49 rushing attempts in his three-year NFL career thus far. Also, Royce Freeman had a significant drop-off in production with the signing of Melvin Gordon and does not appear to be a real threat outside of short-yardage situations putting the exclamation point on the statement that this position group needs an infusion of talent

Positives

Najee Harris is a jackhammer as a runner. At 6’2”, 230lbs, he is built powerfully and delivers a blow at the end of nearly every run, and seems to always fall forward. With that power, he is able to consistently break tackles and arm tackles barely have an effect. Harris is not afraid to initiate contact and his balance through contact is fantastic allowing him to rack up significant yards after contact.

Harris shows a quick first step to hit the hole and nice acceleration on the second level allowing him to rip off some nice long gains. He also has pass-catching ability out of the backfield and does not fight the ball into his hands. Harris has a vicious stiff-arm and uses it to devastating effect as well. Harris’s footwork is also very polished and he does not have a lot of wasted movement.

He has also shown a very nice ability to pick up blocks in pass protection isn’t easily moved. Ball security is a huge positive in his game and he shields the ball well and doesn’t put the ball on the ground.

Negatives

Speed is not Harris’s forte. That’s not to say he’s slow, but he shouldn’t be considered a home-run hitter from the backfield.

At times Harris will unnecessarily initiate contact instead of moving towards the open field where he could potentially get more yardage. Harris will also sometimes miss cutback lanes and miss opportunities for longer rushes, which could bring up concerns with vision.

Harris could benefit from gaining a few more juke or cut moves to dissuade physical contact.

Verdict

Najee Harris has the potential upside to be a three-down back in the NFL in the mold of a Derrick Henry. Fortunately, for the Broncos they already have a starting-caliber running back in Melvin Gordon so the selection of Harris would create quite the two-headed monster rushing attack for Pat Shurmur to have at his disposal.

The Broncos do appear to need another body to fill the running back room but doing so with the ninth overall pick would not seem to fit the cost valuation at the running back position in the modern NFL. Harris would become much more tempting if the Broncos decided to trade back into the 20s or early 30s where the reach would be more justified, given his All-Pro potential.

As an organization, Denver and its fans have taken pride in their ability to find effective running backs on day three, or as undrafted free agents, so it would be surprising to see them take a running back on day one.

There is also the question of need.

The RB position isn’t a big need for this team when you consider the success of Melvin Gordon and the gaps elsewhere on the roster. If the Broncos were to end up making this pick it would feel like getting chrome rims on your Cadillac Escalade instead of getting that oil change you have been putting off. It is exciting to consider but an understandably challengeable selection at the end of the day.

Draft Projection: Top 40

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