By Charlie Campbell
Summary: Harris was one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school, but given the loaded Alabama backfield, it took some time for Harris to earn carries. As a freshman in 2017, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry for 370 yards with three touchdowns. Alabama didn’t give him a lot of carries because of more experienced players ahead of him, like Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. He was expected to take on a bigger role as a sophomore, but Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs beat out Najee Harris for bigger roles. In 2018, Harris had only 117 carries, but averaged 6.7 yards per carry for 783 yards with four touchdowns.
With Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris off to the NFL, Najee Harris earned the starting spot as a junior in 2019. Harris averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 1,224 yards with 13 touchdowns. He had 27 receptions for 304 yards and seen scores as a receiver. Harris could have entered the 2020 NFL Draft, but he wisely decided to return for his senior year. Even in the shortened 2020 season, Harris surpassed his production from his junior year, dominating the SEC. In 2020, Harris averaged 6.1 yards per carry for 1,387 yards with 24 touchdowns. He had 36 catches for 346 yards and three touchdowns while being impressive as a blocker as well.
There is no doubt Harris has the ability to be an impactful NFL running back with the skill set of a three-down starter. He has an excellent combination of size and quickness that lets him run over tacklers, yet he retains the speed to hit the hole. Harris has a strong build and is difficult to bring down, as he can power through tackles and bounce off defenders to continue to gain yards. He has very good contact balance and runs behind his pads with nice knee bend. In short yardage, Jones is an asset because he can push the pile on his own. He keeps his legs going after contact and possesses a powerful lower body that is tough to stop.
In the open field, Harris can rip off yards in chunks, threating to turn an ordinary carry into more yards thanks to his the speed to burst to the second level. Harris also has the cutting ability and quick feet, to weave through the defense.
Aside from his size and speed, Harris is a natural runner with good instincts. He shows excellent vision, patience, and anticipation to follow his line before bursting downhill. When holes aren’t open, Harris will patiently wait to let his line create a crease and then skillfully use his vision to make something out of nothing. Regularly, Harris anticipates where a hole is about to open, and that lets him get to the second level consistently.
In the passing game, Harris has good hands for a power back. He makes some difficult catches and is dangerous in space. In 2020, Harris became an asset in pass protection, doing phenomenal job of protecting Mac Jones. Harris squared up blitzers well and did a good job of diagnosing where rushers were coming from. For a college back, Harris had a superb season of tape proving he can protect his quarterback. He will, however, still need development for knowing blitz schemes in the NFL.
Backs like Harris have been typically going in the second round of NFL drafts, and it would not be surprising if Harris goes early on the second night of the 2021 NFL Draft. Harris should be a three-down starter quickly and may have Pro Bowl potential.
Player Comparison: Mark Ingram. Harris like a bigger version of Ingram. Both are physical backs with the quickness and the versatility to contribute as blockers or receivers. I could see Harris having an NFL career similar to Ingram’s.
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