2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: RB Najee Harris
In a similar fashion to Travis Etienne, Najee Harris decided to return for his senior season at Alabama, despite NFL Draft eligibility in 2020. Taking the risk, Harris improved his draft stock after a career year as a rusher and receiver. Now a consensus top-three back in the NFL Draft, Harris finds himself in the conversation to become a late-Day One or early-Day Two pick.
Coming out of high school, recruiting services listed Harris as a five-star prospect and the top overall running back in the 2017 class. Harris originally committed to Alabama as a sophomore in high school and his recruitment never wavered, despite late pushes from Michigan and USC. This breakdown will examine Harris’s collegiate production, how that translates to the NFL game and the potential fantasy implications.
Najee Harris’s College Production & Profile
Like many who enter the Alabama system, Harris waited multiple seasons for his feature-back role. However, Nick Saban found Harris talented enough to get on the field in a rotational role as early as his freshman season. In 2017, Harris recorded 61 carries for 370 yards, fourth-most on the team. This backfield included Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Josh Jacobs, with dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts at the helm. The crowded backfield played a part in Harris's breakout age (21.5) occurring later than that of other top prospects in the draft. Breakout Age refers to the age of a player during their first season accounting for 20% of the yardage and touchdowns in their offense.
From there, Harris’s involvement only continued to grow. In 2018, the budding star rushed 117 times for 783 yards and four scores. Hitting 6.7 yards per carry (YPC), Harris showed more efficiency than both Damien Harris (5.8 YPC) and Jacobs (5.3 YPC) in the same offense. Only lacking as a receiver, Harris had already emerged as a key component to the Crimson Tide rushing attack.
As a junior, Harris finally received his first taste of feature-back duties with Harris and Jacobs off to the NFL. Harris notched 1,224 yards and 13 scores on 209 attempts that season. Harris also added 27 receptions, 304 yards, and another seven scores as a receiver. While productive enough for a mid-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Harris decided to return for his senior season. During that elite campaign, Harris rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 scores on 251 carries. He also contributed another 43 receptions, 425 yards, and four scores as a receiver.
|Opponent||Attempts||Rush Yards||TD||Rec||Rec Yards|
From an efficiency perspective, Harris leaves a bit to be desired. In 2020, he finished with the third-most yards after contact (962) and the second-most forced missed tackles (69). However, Harris benefitted from a full SEC schedule and an enormous 252-carry workload. When adjusted on a per attempt basis, Harris actually provides average efficiency metrics.
From an athleticism standpoint, Harris remains a mystery. The bruiser checked in at 6-foot-1, 232 pounds at Alabama’s Pro Day, but he declined athletic testing. Not known for speed or athleticism on tape, this remains a major concern. Harris only finished with 25 carries of 20+ yards in his career at Alabama, despite handling 638 career carries. This highlights a weakness in top-end speed, which will be exacerbated at the NFL level.
Still, Harris checks in with a 30.9% College Dominator and an elite 13.4% target share. College Dominator refers to the total percentage of yardage and touchdown production a player accounted for in their final season. Coming out of an Alabama system with multiple NFL running backs, Harris’s onfield production cannot be dismissed.
Even without athletic testing, a few running backs stand out as semi-close comparisons to Harris. Le'Veon Bell, Jeremy Hill and James Conner highlight the list, with Matt Jones, T.J. Yeldon, Todd Gurley and Joe Mixon appearing as more distant comparisons. As shown below, athleticism remains the driving point for the average backs against the most successful backs on this list.
|Player||School||Height||Weight||40-Yard||Breakout Age||Dominator%||Target Share%|
|Le'Veon Bell||Michigan State||6'1"||230||4.60||18.5||45.1%||10.8%|
|David Johnson||Northern Iowa||6'1"||224||4.50||19.7||40.8%||14.4%|
Not expected to find himself in the elite athlete territory, Harris’s closest comparisons fall in the Bell, Hill and Conner range. Conner remains the closest comparison after leaving Pittsburgh with a 34.4% Dominator Rating and a 7.7% target share. Measuring in at 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds, Connor ran a 4.65 40-yard dash coming out of school. Productive in a small sample, injuries derailed Conner early in his career.
Closest Player Comparison: James Conner
Ideal Landing Spot
Playing one of the most replaceable positions in the NFL, teams continue to de-value running backs in the draft. Because of this, teams drafting towards the end of the first or top of the second round make the most sense for Harris. Jacksonville, Buffalo, Atlanta and Miami all make picks between 25 and 50, making varying degrees of sense for Harris.
Jacksonville possesses the most draft capital in this range with picks 25, 33 and 45, giving them a solid shot at Harris. However, they also have holes across the entire roster and presumed number on pick Trevor Lawrence to protect. Atlanta picks at 35 and sits with Mike Davis atop their roster. However, the Falcons may opt to address the defensive side of the ball after receiving little contribution from Todd Gurley last year.
Similar to Jacksonville, Miami picks 18th, 36th and 50th, giving them an abundance of draft capital. Their roster contains just Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and Malcolm Brown. However, the Dolphins committed to a full rebuild and continue to plug holes at other positions. Buffalo remains the top landing spot with pick 30 at the end of the first round. The Bills invested in Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in back-to-back years in the mid-rounds, but neither possesses a three-down skill set. The lack of a run game fully appeared in the playoffs last season with Buffalo’s running backs receiving nine combined carries against both the Ravens and Chiefs. Providing a three-down skill set, Harris immediately upgrades an already formidable offense.
Best Landing Spot: Buffalo Bills
Harris’s physical profile brings a checkered past given his lack of athleticism. However, his production against SEC-level competition speaks for itself. A more accomplished receiver than most of his physical comparisons, Harris likely hears his name called no later than the second day of the draft. With that draft capital, Harris could climb into the top five rounds of fantasy drafts, pending landing spot. As for dynasty, 4for4 Dynasty Lead George Kritikos has Chase ranked as his rookie RB1 and 31st overall player in his dynasty rankings.