NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2020. This is the 11th in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason.
I've known about Najee Harris since his high school career began in Antioch, California. He was one of the most coveted recruits in the country and was strongly endorsed by my NFL Network colleague, former All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Harris has lived up to his lofty recruiting status during his career at Alabama. While he's shared the load with a stable of talented backs, he always finds a way to make his presence felt in the biggest games. Here's my scouting report on the senior rusher.
Height, weight: 6-foot-2, 230 pounds (school measurements).
2019 statistics: 209 carries for 1,224 yards (5.9 average), 13 touchdowns; 27 catches for 304 yards (11.3 average), seven TDs.
Game tape watched: Texas A&M (Oct. 12, 2019), Tennessee (Oct. 19, 2019), LSU (Nov. 9, 2019).
What I liked: Harris has a tall, athletic frame for the running back position. He's a smooth, fluid runner with a gliding gate. He's very patient on inside runs and has the ability to get skinny through traffic. He drops his pads on contact and possesses tremendous contact balance. He's elusive in the open field and can deploy a nasty stiff-arm.
The 2019 second-team All-SEC selection is very valuable as a pass catcher in this offense, too. He excels in the screen game, where he understands how to patiently set up blocks and pile up big yardage. He sets up defenders on angle routes underneath and can track and high-point the ball down the field. His hands are outstanding. He's very aware in pass protection and is willing to stick his face in the fan (still one of my favorite scouting phrases) versus blitzing linebackers.
Where he needs to improve: The major knock on Harris is his lack of top-end speed. He doesn't possess ideal explosiveness or burst. However, his long stride can be a little deceiving and he might time a little better than anticipated when he tests prior to next year's draft. Also, while I love his awareness and willingness in pass protection, he's too narrow and gives up too much ground. If he learns to sink his weight and create a more balanced platform, he should improve in this area.
Biggest takeaway: I loved watching Harris on tape. His game is so smooth and effortless. He has a natural running style and his feel/instincts make up for his lack of elite speed. He isn't going to be a home-run hitter at the next level, but he's going to pile up a bunch of doubles. What does that mean? Well, it means he's going to routinely turn 2- and 3-yard runs into 12- and 15-yard runs. He is going to excel in short yardage and he'll be an asset out of the backfield on third down.
He reminds me of: I wrote down Matt Forte at the top of my notes about 10 plays into my study of the LSU game. The two players share the same build and smooth/easy running style. Forte had a little more juice, but they are both physical, instinctive runners with added value in the passing game. Another name that popped into my mind was Eddie George. However, George was bigger and more violent as a runner. It will be interesting to see how the league values Harris in the draft. My advice: Ignore the 40-yard-dash time. He's going to be an excellent pro.