Alabama RB Najee Harris has chance to be 2020 NFL draft riser

Alabama RB Najee Harris isn’t considered an elite prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft, but a big season in 2019 could change that.

Alabama is one of college football’s best programs for churning out NFL talent. Year after year, players from the Crimson Tide routinely get selected early in the first round and throughout the first two days.

The 2019 NFL draft is a great example. Quinnen Williams was the third pick overall by the New York Jets, Jonah Williams went 11th overall to the Bengals and Josh Jacobs was selected 29th by the Raiders.

In total, Alabama had 10 players picked in 2019. They could top that number in 2020, and it’s the offensive side of the ball that will feature their highest-profile prospects.

Much has been said about QB Tua Tagovailoa and WRs Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, III. But there’s also a running back who deserves some attention: Najee Harris.

Harris won’t be for everyone this draft season. He’s a big-bodied banger at 6-2 and 227 pounds and he doesn’t possess the kind of big-play ability that the top running back prospects in the class have, but he began his career at Alabama as a five-star recruit and the top high school prospect in the country on various recruiting boards.

The dude has talent.

But according to the Athletic’s Dane Brugler, he fits the mold of a Day-3 projection at this point in his development.

“He was No. 11 among underclassmen for me. I just don’t think his style is a great fit in today’s NFL and I preferred the guys in front of him,” Brugler said on Twitter Tuesday in response to a question asking why Harris wasn’t ranked higher on his preseason list. “He’ll have a chance to sway me this year as the lead dog. We’ll see.”

The logic behind Brugler’s assessment is sound. Harris is a one-trick pony right now and let’s face it: NFL offenses are simply too pass-heavy to feel like he’ll be a highly sought after guy next April.

That said, football is a cyclical sport. It’s only a matter of time (well, maybe years) before the game flips back to valuing a strong between-the-tackles running game. In fact, keep an eye on what Bill Belichick and the Patriots develop in New England this season. With Sony Michel and Damien Harris representing two high picks over the last two draft cycles, Belichick could lead the resurrection of the power running game.

The Titans will feature Derrick Henry in their running game in 2019, and Harris is a similar player. If Henry leads Tennessee on a playoff run, the rest of the NFL will take notice. It’s a copycat league, after all.

If Harris enjoys a breakout season this fall and becomes an unstoppable force for Alabama, then none of this will matter. He’ll be a high draft pick (Day 2). Preseason rankings are great to lay a tentative foundation for the upcoming draft narrative, but they’re far from concrete. A player like Harris could be a great example of this.