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Draft criticism still fuels Steelers’ Najee Harris

Steelers running back Najee Harris laughed when he learned that Pro Football Focus declared him the worst first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“Well, everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Harris told The Post, laughing. “I hate PFF too.”

The 24-year-old Harris said he doesn’t care to give attention to those who “believe stereotypes” that running backs are unappealing first-round draft picks.

The Alabama product was selected with the No. 24 overall pick by Pittsburgh in last year’s draft. Harris had a breakout rookie season, in which he made the Pro Bowl, earned a spot on the NFL All-Rookie team and finished fourth in the NFL in rushing.

The running back ran for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns on 307 carries, and caught 74 passes for 467 yards and three touchdowns. Harris played 980 offensive snaps during the regular season — or 170 more than any other running back.

Najee Harris celebrates against the Ravens on Jan. 9, 2022
Getty Images

“I mean, there were some people who didn’t like the pick and there are some people who did,” Harris said. “What matters is, I got picked. So, what am I going to do next? Do I come in there and show that I was a bust, or are you going to come in there and take over and show them why a [running back] was picked in the first round. And some people might not think I even did that, too, which is cool. I guess everybody’s entitled to their opinion.



“But personally, I’m going to do everything I can to help the team out, so my teammates and coaches and GM to know that it wasn’t a bad pick. And I appreciate [the Steelers] for even taking a running back in the first round. But I saw that. I mean, it’s cool. I just laugh at it. I put that with all the other stuff that they say bad about me and you’re not going to get rid of that stuff. So it’s cool. I like it, actually.”

Najee Harris
Najee Harris
Getty Images

Something Harris does want to improve heading into his second NFL season is his leadership and vocal presence on the field — especially in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era in Pittsburgh. The Super Bowl champion quarterback announced his retirement in January, after 18 seasons as a Steeler.

“Me personally, I think, maybe just to be more of a vocal leader, you know,” Harris said. “Later in the year, I was speaking up a lot more. But, this year I will want to set that tone earlier now that Ben’s gone. You know, it would be nice to be a leader on the offensive side. Boss, I’m just trying to be that person.”

The Steelers signed quarterback Mitch Trubisky in March, who previously backed Josh Allen in a short stint with the Bills. Steelers also drafted former Pitt quarterback, Kenny Pickett with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

“It’s a good pickup,” Harris said of Trubisky. “He does a good job of extending plays. He uses his legs a lot. He’s actually fast too. He’s athletic.”

When he’s on the field, Harris is all business. According to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, Harris is a “competitive junkie.” It’s something the running back said he and Tomlin bond over.

But outside of football, Harris described himself as a “pretty interesting dude” who’s “full of surprises.” He doesn’t like country music, but loves rodeos. He recently made a AEW cameo and had the time of his life.

Najee Harris made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year
Najee Harris made the Pro Bowl in his rookie year
Getty Images

“My life outside of football, it’s pretty entertaining,” said Harris, who once “accidentally went to a Drake party,” and didn’t realize it until the rapper was sitting next to him. He described the late night as “spontaneous,” just like him.

One constant in Harris’ life is his dedication to giving back and helping others. Harris skipped the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland to attend a watch party in his honor at the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) in California — the shelter he lived in for several years as a middle-schooler with his parents and four older siblings.

That same year, Harris founded the nonprofit organization Da’ Bigger Picture Foundation, which provides assistance to families impacted by homelessness and hunger. He also helped to renovate GRIP through his foundation.

Najee Harris and Shaquille O'Neal on Feb. 12, 2022
Najee Harris and Shaquille O’Neal on Feb. 12, 2022
Getty Images for Fanatics

The Steelers star spoke with The Post while at a Pittsburgh-based school, where he surprised students by coaching a youth football game. The event was in partnership with Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Mission Tiger to announce a donation to Pittsburgh Public Schools, helping 38,000 Pittsburgh middle schoolers participate in sports.

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