The Pittsburgh Steelers have been disappointing to start the 2021 NFL season. Mike Tomlin‘s squad is currently sitting at 2-3, putting them in last place in the AFC North. For as bad as they’ve looked, the Steelers have some bright spots that give them hope moving forward. Najee Harris has the makings of a future star in Pittsburgh.
The rookie running back’s talent on the field matches his character off of it.
Najee Harris is showing flashes in rookie season with the Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers hit the lottery when they landed Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. They took the Alabama running back with the No. 24 overall pick, which may end up being a steal when it’s all said and done.
Harris has carried the ball 78 times for 307 yards and two touchdowns through the first five games. He’s also caught 28 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown.
The Steelers’ offensive line struggled early in the season, limiting Harris’ productivity in counting stats. The offensive line woes, along with the declining performance of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, have held Pittsburgh’s offense back so far in 2021.
Harris, a consensus All-American with the Crimson Tide, is an all-around running back. His powerful running style and dynamic ability as a receiver out of the backfield make him a difficult player to stop.
Harris shares a special bond with a 9-year-old
Najee Harris is an impact player on the gridiron, but he’s also making his presence felt beyond the gridiron.
The Alabama product developed an unlikely bond with a nine-year-old named Braxton Weidman. Braxton, and his parents, Brandie and Chris Weidman, are from Birmingham, Alabama, and are huge Crimson Tide football fans.
Doctors diagnosed Braxton with Stage 4 cancer in 2020, per The Athletic.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban and his wife, Terry, heard the news about Braxton’s situation and set up a meeting with the Weidmans. Braxton’s favorite Crimson Tide players were Harris and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.
Harris crafted a video message and sent it to Braxton during the week of his surgery. In return, the then-eight-year-old asked the star running back to score a touchdown against Ole Miss. Harris responded with five scores.
“He was really down in the dumps,” said Chris Weidman. “All those guys from Alabama and coach Saban, it brought him out of it, and he has stayed tough since, really.”
The Weidmans have followed Harris to the NFL, and they’re rooting for him to be successful with the Steelers.
Najee Harris is the cornerstone of the Steelers’ future
Najee Harris knows how important having a support system is in life. The Martinez, California native is a strong young man, in his own right.
When Harris was in middle school, his family spent time in homeless shelters and even slept in their cars. “Everywhere I went, the community always helped me out, helped keep me out of trouble, helped me get food on the table, took me places when I didn’t have rides,” he said.
The Steelers’ rookie battled adversity in his personal life, then paid it forward to Braxton Weidman. Pittsburgh is known as a blue-collar town, and the residents have embraced Harris as one of their own.
The Steelers franchise has a storied history. Fans have come to expect greatness. That’s a far cry from what the team has put on the field in 2021, but there should be light at the end of the tunnel.
If the front office plays it right, it will build around Najee Harris. He was the best running back in the draft. Now, they need to work on fixing the offensive line and replacing Big Ben at quarterback.
If the flashes Harris has shown turn into much more, Pittsburgh can get back to the old days of smash-mouth football.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference