Rookie Rundown: RB Najee Harris, Alabama

Rookie Rundown: RB Najee Harris, Alabama

Fantasy Football Rookie Analysis

Rookie Rundown: RB Najee Harris, Alabama

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Alabama has churned out a few quality NFL running backs in recent years, and the next in line appears to be Najee Harris. The burly but athletic specimen has all of the necessary tools to shine over three downs of action in the pros.

A highly recruited prep star, Harris bided his time in the Alabama program behind eventual NFL backs, including Damien Harris in 2017 and Josh Jacobs in ’18. When it finally became time to shine, he produced strong numbers — only to eclipse them in 2020’s abbreviated campaign.

Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 230 pounds
40 time: TBD (4.52 estimated)

Harris did not run at either of Alabama’s Pro Days, due to a minor ankle injury suffered late in 2020’s season. He is expected to be fine soon enough, so the 40 time is an estimate based on past reports from his workouts with the team.

The 2019 junior took over as the primary starter for the Crimson Tide and earned second-team All-SEC honors. His production alone would have been enough for a high draft stock, but Harris opted to return for his senior season, and it paid off in a big way.

Table: Najee Harris NCAA stats (2018-20)

Year
School
Class
Gm*
Rushing
Receiving
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Rec
Yds
Avg
TD
2017
Alabama
FR
10
61
370
6.1
3
6
45
7.5
0
2018
Alabama
SO
15
117
783
6.7
4
4
7
1.8
0
2019
Alabama
JR
13
209
1,224
5.9
13
27
304
11.3
7
2020
Alabama
SR
13
251
1,466
5.8
26
43
425
9.9
4
Career
638
3,843
6.0
46
80
781
9.8
11

*includes postseason/bowl games

The summation of his time at Alabama: Harris finished as the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (46), total touchdowns (57), and rushing yards (3,843). He won the Doak Walker Award in 2020 as the nation’s best back, and Harris also received first-team All-SEC recognition. No player scored more total touchdowns in 2020.

Pros

  • Blend of size-speed-power-hands creates a unique weapon for clever playcallers
  • Moves more nimbly than size suggests — displays a swift stop-and-go move that creates whiffs. Harris has plus lateral ability and makes people miss with regularity
  • Leaping ability to leave his feet for extra yardage
  • Experienced running downfield routes out of the backfield
  • Quality hands as a receiver
  • Quicker than fast — explosive in a short area
  • Patient enough with the vision and anticipatory skills needed as a pro
  • Excellent ball security
  • Tremendous balance and body control through contact for a back of his size
  • Runs with an attitude, especially around the stripe
  • Feet are constantly in motion
  • Respectable stiff arm and an effective swipe to brush off smaller defenders
  • Able to get to the perimeter fast enough to get into the second level on zone stretches
  • Waited for his opportunity in a crowded backfield and delivered when called upon — showed he can come in cold and immediately contribute as well as hold up to the rigors of being the featured back
  • Only a moderate amount of touches over four years (718)
  • Quite capable as a blocker in pass protection

Cons

  • Coming off a minor ankle injury
  • Super aggressive, which can get him into trouble at times
  • Violent nature of play will expose him to injuries and/or a shortened NFL career
  • Top-line speed won’t run away from many NFL defenders
  • Despite lower volume of work over four years, Harris has been a busy guy in the past two seasons
  • The leaping over people is fun to watch but won’t be as effective in the NFL

Fantasy football outlook

Don’t automatically see this large-framed Alabama back and think Derrick Henry. Harris is more Mark Ingram or Steven Jackson. While neither of those guys were slouches, they also weren’t the King.

Harris has a first-round grade on talent alone, but teams will devalue him based on the positional need and this being a deep draft class for quarterbacks and wideouts. It’s still certainly within reason he will be chosen in the first round, however.

The Miami Dolphins (18th) and New York Jets (23rd) are the most reasonable spots for him in Round 1. The Arizona Cardinals (16th) could pitch a curveball, and the Buffalo Bills (30th) are a farfetched but remotely possible destination.

Near the top of Round 2 is probably the floor of Harris’ draft stock, with the Jets (34th), Atlanta Falcons (35th), Denver Broncos (40th) and San Francisco 49ers (43rd) all likely landing spots.

Arizona, Miami and the Jets would be ideal spots in terms of opportunity for three-down work. The Bills already have two young backs and added Matt Breida in the offseason — none of them are in Harris’ league, though. Atlanta added Mike Davis, but he’s not the long-term answer and maybe not even the immediate one as a career journeyman. Denver and San Fran would give more stability around him but create serious time-share situations.

In the right spot, Harris is a strong contender for RB2 status on a weekly aggregate basis. The floor, provided he stays healthy, is quality depth if drafted by any of those teams.

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