RB Draft Profile: Najee Harris
Name: Najee Harris
Weight: 230 lbs
Throughout his time in college, Najee Haris has gained and strong technical mastery of the running back position. That all begins with footwork. Harris excels in both main components of that category, movement efficiency and churning through contact.
There are no wasted steps in Harris’ game. He can navigate quite well in either gap or zone schemes. No matter the play, Harris hits the hole hard and fast. This is in part to his precision with each step. There is no wasted movement, every time he moves either foot, there is purpose. With a 230 lb frame, Harris cannot afford to dance around in the backfield. He has a lot of body to move and if he cannot gain momentum before reaching defenders, he may not be as successful in the NFL.
The initial footwork makes it so that when Harris takes contact, he is better positioned to succeed. But having that initial efficiency is not enough in itself. It is important that when Harris is hit, he continues to move his feet. A back of his size will already be enough for most defenders to handle. If Harris can constantly churn his feet while getting tackled, it will only make it even more difficult for a defender to bring him down.
Back to Harris and his large frame. At 6’2″ 230lbs, he is a big boy. While that does pose obvious advantages, there can be an exploitable weakness for these taller backs. Football is all about leverage and if a defender can create a lower center of gravity than a running back, it can certainly make the tackle much easier. Harris mitigates this risk while demonstrating more technical mastery of the game.
Just before making contact, Harris will often lower his shoulder pads. When he is able to get underneath a defender, Harris can use his punishing frame to blow through his opponent. He also ensures to square his shoulder pads with an opponent in order to avoid getting tackled by the side.
Harris has flexibility throughout his body. This is especially important around the ankles, the knees, and the hips. With flexibility in those joints, Harris can make many subtle movements on the football field.
The one trait that truly sets Harris apart in this class is his contact balance. From his college game tape, the term power back seems appropriate. Harris constantly fights through contact for extra yards. Not only does he usually remain up, but he often forced the defender backwards in one-on-one situations. His 230 lb frame will make him a difficult man to bring down, even in the pros. At the very least, this should lead to Harris earning a significant portion of goal-line carries in the NFL. Touchdown upside is a great way for a rookie running back to rapidly increase in value.
Balance also applies to open field movements as well, not just during contact. Whenever Harris rapidly changes direction, he can maintain forward momentum thanks to his balance. Something as simple as not slipping during a cut is important when attempting to produce as many yards as possible on any given play.
One could describe Harris’ game as balanced since he has no glaring weakness. However, contact balance is arguably his strongest suit. For this entire 2021 class, Harris might maintain the best balance when running.
Looking at Harris and his large frame, one might guess that he is a slow mover. However, his burst score was comparable to some of the other top running back prospects. As already mentioned, Harris has efficient footwork to thank for that, at least in part. However, there is more to his game than not wasting steps. Harris can separate in short areas from incoming defenders. This makes him a well-rounded prospect that will be a problem for defenders at the next level. He might even grade out as the best runner in this 2021 class.
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You may see a huge bruising power back like Harris and not think much of his receiving work. It may come as a surprise to find out that Harris caught 70 passes combined during his final two seasons in college. He has great hands to make catches even when the pass is under-thrown. In general, Harris adjusts very well to thrown balls that are not perfect.
Harris has some experience running routes from different locations. Yes, a lot of his receptions in college were dump-offs. However, Harris can run a variety of routes from out of the backfield. For instance, he can run a mean wheel route, but just as easily get open crossing over the middle. There were also times in college where Harris would line up on the outside as a wide receiver.
Like most incoming rookies, his pass-protection is somewhat inconsistent. Harris has the size that he can withstand power moves from a lot of linebackers. The struggle with Harris comes when he can’t read and react quickly enough to get to the spot on time. Extremely fast edge rushers can give a Harris a hard in with his pass-protection assignments.
Najee Harris is one of the best running back prospects in the 2021 draft class. There is no true weakness to his game. Harris can produce as a punishing power back and make plays in the passing game. He has a great mastery of technical aspects of football, most notably his excellent footwork. Arguably Harris’ best trait is his impressive contact balance. He also has the body fluidity and burst to avoid defenders when needed. Ultimately, Harris can gain yards in a variety of ways. He can power through and push back a defender for extra yards. Or he can evade contact and produce in that manner.
I expect that Harris will be among the first, if not the first, running back selected during the 2021 NFL Draft.
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